In his introduction, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry and climate activist Jacques Dubochet warned that our planet was headed for a disaster. While he stressed that the solution to global warming is known, namely to “stop burning fossil fuels”, he considered the path to be more complicated when it comes to agriculture: “Two-thirds of the planet is struggling for survival, for food. Agroecology is part of the solution. But how do we implement it on a broader level?”, he wondered.
The voice from the field
The feedback from the field came from Kavita Gandhi, SWISSAID’s programme manager in India, who gave an update on the situation in Odisha, in the east of the country. More specifically, she stopped by the village of Jamutbahl, where, as in many other places, climate change is disrupting the activities of farmers: rising temperatures, drought, fluctuations in rainfall and monsoons make farming increasingly difficult. Crop yields are decreasing and, as a result, farmers’ incomes. Not to mention the loss of diversity in their diet. These difficulties push many to migrate and leave the countryside. The burden on women is increasing, as they are usually responsible for providing food for the family as well as caring for the young and elderly.
She then showed how SWISSAID is committed to supporting them locally. How ? By contributing to the creation of seed banks and the development of seeds that are adapted to climate change. In addition, SWISSAID trains farmers in agroecological practices and promotes empowerment.
A scientist's eye
Johanna Jacobi, an agroecology specialist and researcher at the Center for Development and Environment (CDE) at the University of Bern, began by reviewing the principles that guide agroecology. She explained that this science of sustainable agriculture is also a social movement. A transdisciplinary concept that does not boil down to ready-made answers such as replacing a pesticide with a biopesticide. It is a larger, very diverse systemic approach.
Based on various research studies, including her own, in which she compared three ways of producing cocoa, namely monoculture, simple agroforestry and dynamic agroforestry, the specialist came to the following conclusions: Agroforestry improves soils, reduces water stress, contributes to the diversity of fruits and vegetables, provides firewood, medicinal plants and contributes to food security. In addition, these systems sequester two to three times more CO2 in the soil than conventional systems.
However, in addition to seeds and equipment, it is paramount to have access to land to develop these methods, she continued. This implies a more profound change if we want to rebuild a global food system that is sustainable and fair. A democratization of access to natural resources and food systems is needed as well as to reconnect producers and consumers.
A rich discussion
Following these presentations, participants contributed to the lively discussion. Among the points raised were the importance of direct sales in the North and South, the training of farmers as well as nutrition education, especially for young people.
When asked whether conventional agriculture will be a thing of the past in 2050, several voices were raised to say that we cannot wait thirty years to decarbonize our food systems and make our ecosystems more resilient to climate change. Among the issues raised, the question of access to local seed varieties that are resilient to climate change and the possibility of selling and exchanging them and creating more seed banks was repeatedly highlighted. Three months before two popular Swiss votes on plant protection products, the dangers of pesticides and chemical substances were also raised by participants. They were particularly concerned about pollinating insects. Finally, participants added that it was essential to support farmers in their efforts to adopt agroecology. This opinion was shared by Kavita Gandhi, who called for systemic changes to face the multiple challenges posed by global warming, while advocating safety nets for farmers.
For his part, Jacques Dubochet repeated his message in the form of a question: “How can we convince millions of people to embrace agroecology?”