To feed the world’s population in the long term, a transformation of food systems is necessary.

Agroecology is an integrative approach that aims to link the social, ecological, economic and cultural domains. It is based on 13 principles, to which SWISSAID has added a 14th - gender equality. An important ally for sustainability, agroecology is based on natural cycles, conserves resources, reduces dependence on external factors such as chemical inputs, and is more resilient to variable climatic conditions and extreme events.

The 13 principles of agroecology

A group of experts has collected the definitions of agroecology and extracted 13 principles that constitute a minimal, non-repetitive but comprehensive set of agroecological principles.

  1. recycling
  2. reduction of the use of fertilizers
  3. health of the soil
  4. animal health
  5. biodiversity
  6. synergies
  7. economic diversification
  8. common knowledge generation
  9. social values and nutrition
  10. equity
  11. connectivity
  12. land and resource management
  13. participation
  14. gender equality

SWISSAID aligns itself with these 13 principles by adding a fourteenth, gender equality, which it considers essential in agroecology.

Agroecology in brief

SWISSAID's 5 priorities

In its actions, SWISSAID has decided to focus on 5 priorities, based on the 14 principles of agroecology.

1. Women farmers

Agroecology offers a diversified role to women in the household economy, while challenging patriarchal structures within the family unit. In addition, the search for agroecological methods requires spaces and opportunities for exchange, including spaces reserved for women, which are essential for achieving equality and self-determination. This approach also promotes better economic opportunities for women. Characterized by low start-up and production costs, simple and effective production techniques, and stable yields over time, agroecology is less risky, more affordable, and accessible to women.

2. Agrobiodiversity and seeds

Agroecology preserves and enhances species diversity. It also makes it possible to develop new types of local seeds, adapted to the environment and thus more resistant. SWISSAID supports farmer seed systems that preserve agrobiodiversity and are thus a central element of resilient agroecological systems. Women farmers in particular play an important role in the conservation and promotion of seeds. Read more about this.

3. Economic diversification of income

Crop diversity allows families to sell different products throughout the year, providing a stable source of income. By relying on their own seeds, locally available materials to produce organic fertilizers and pesticides, systemic improvements and nutrient recycling, production costs can be greatly reduced compared to a conventional farming system. In addition, easier access to markets and food produced only for local markets can increase income.

4. Adaptation to climate change

Agroecological practices strengthen the resilience of the ecosystem and rural communities to climate shocks. It allows to maintain production and productivity in the medium and long term in the face of an increasingly unpredictable climate. In addition, it emits less greenhouse gases and the rich soils it promotes absorb carbon from the atmosphere while improving the resilience of smallholder families. Read more about this.

5. Co-creation and knowledge transfer, advocacy and networks

Agroecology is a knowledge-intensive field. It particularly values traditional knowledge, especially that of rural women, and combines it with scientific knowledge.

SWISSAID supports the exchange of knowledge between farmers, scientists, advisors, partners, external actors and staff in order to learn from each other and to advance agroecology horizontally and vertically. To this end, the establishment of knowledge exchange mechanisms at different levels is crucial.

In our partner countries, SWISSAID has supported the strengthening of alliances, “competence centers” or national platforms that aim to contribute to the transformation of current food systems towards more sustainable agriculture and food systems.

In Switzerland, SWISSAID has co-created the Sufosec Alliance, to foster synergies between different Swiss organizations. The Alliance has set up an agroecology learning group. The objective of this group is to exchange knowledge on the different practices around the world and the most recent results.

Finally, SWISSAID is a founding member of the Agroecology Works! network, which brings together actors working on agroecology in Switzerland, in order to raise public awareness and thus promote agroecology in Switzerland and abroad.

Expertise in the field

In Switzerland, SWISSAID has a network of agroecological focal points as well as thematic advisors for agroecology, climate change and seeds.

In our nine partner countries, the local coordination offices have their own agroecological focal point. These specially trained people support the partners in the field and ensure the smooth implementation of all activities aimed at improving knowledge sharing on agroecology. The nine specialists from the partner countries hold periodic meetings to exchange information and advice on best practices. These Communities of Practice (CoPs) exchange at the international, regional and national levels, and promote knowledge exchange and co-creation of new knowledge.

Depending on the country, projects include working closely with universities or research centers to link field knowledge with scientific analysis. Our biggest collaboration is in Tanzania, where the SWISSAID office is conducting research with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and the University of Sokoine in Tanzania.