Investing in agroecology for a future of food that is sustainable, secure, and equitable

By Lauren Baker

The FAO’s Second International Symposium on Agroecology in early April 2018 was a significant moment for the agroecology movement. More than 700 actors and advocates from across sectors came together to explore how we, as a global community, can scale-up agroecology to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, and address pressing global concerns like climate change, health, and shifting global economies and demographics.

For the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, an alliance of philanthropic foundations working together and with others to transform global food systems now and for future generations, this marked a critical opportunity to engage partners from philanthropy, as well as multi-lateral and bi-lateral donor organizations, in a conversation about how we can think strategically, and in a coordinated way, to accelerate transitions to agroecology.

Together with the AgroEcology Fund and McKnight Foundation, the Global Alliance co-hosted a side event resulting in the development of five strategies to accelerate agroecology. These strategies were informed by a panel of donors – Kyra Busch from the Christensen Fund, Mohamed Bakarr from the Global Environment Facility, Ananth Guruswamy from Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives, and Ludovic Larbodiere from the French Ministry of Agriculture and Food – along with cross-sectoral participants from other donor organizations, civil society, farmers’ movements, the private sector, government, and UN agencies.

Panelists were asked for their top three strategies or ideas that will most effectively mobilize resources to accelerate the transition to agroecology. These ideas were then voted on by the session participants, and the following priority strategies were identified.

1) Co-create a compelling narrative for agroecology
Panelists and participants agreed that agroecology is powerful because it allows us to simultaneously understand, promote, and advance integrated solutions for food, climate, health, labour, land use, and other critical issues. Kyra Busch emphasized that a new narrative for agroecology needs to stress that agroecology is already being implemented at a variety of scales around the world, for example in Bhutan and Vanuatu, and in states of India and Brazil, and is already economically and ecologically viable for producers and consumers.  It is important to move beyond the question of if agroecology will work and to identify how to overcome challenges in implementation, practice, and policy.

2) Create an enabling policy environment
Participants identified that an enabling environment for agroecology would include innovative policies, incentives, and institutional frameworks that facilitate and accelerate agroecological transitions. As an example, Ananth Guruswamy shared that in Andhra Pradesh, India, the transition to agroecological food systems is being orchestrated through shared investments by the state government (investment of USD$85 billion) and Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives (APPI) (investment of USD$16 billion). In this model, APPI, as a philanthropic donor, agreed to provide flexible support, with the government setting the policy framework and investing in infrastructure and direct program support. As a result, the agroecology program has enormous scope and impact. Mohamed Bakarr emphasized that an enabling environment for agroecology requires addressing regulations, accounting standards, and measurement practices. Ludovic Larbodiere described how the evidence collected from practice on the ground can inform the development of government policies.

3) Better connect agroecology to other critical issues
Agroecology provides solutions to many critical global issues. We need research and documentation to enhance and share agroecological practices, in order to address these issues as they manifest in complex situations and environments. Agroecology contributes positively to the environment, to sustainable livelihoods, and to health and well-being. Mohamed Bakarr described how there is a need to increase the evidence-base through the application of innovative tools and best practices for monitoring, reporting and verification of the global benefits of agroecology. Indicators related to land and soil health, biodiversity, and climate change mitigation are now widely available, but need to be monitored and quantified in a systematic manner.

4) Engage farmers through meaningful partnerships to shape funding and investment flow
Ludovic Larbodiere underscored the need to invest in farmers as community leaders, resource people, and triggers for change through education and communication. A session participant stated we need to invest in social movements of producers and support their organizing efforts to pressure governments and organizations to release funding, shift policies, and develop supportive agroecology programs. Farmer-led pilots need to be supported and extended through community leadership, system transition support, robust communications strategies, and data platforms.

5) Support implementation and action
Several session participants outlined the importance of moving from project funding to broader program funding in support of agroecology. Agroecology will require the creation of new institutions, programs and financing mechanisms. Mohamed Bakarr stated, “the private sector plays a critical role and can be incentivized with public sector financing through innovative options such as: a guarantee fund to lower risk for local financial institutions; equity investment in high-risk small- and medium-sized enterprises; concessional loans for small- and medium-sized enterprises; reimbursable project preparation grants to help build a bankable pipeline; and structured financing to catalyze other private sector investment.”

How can donors support new and enhanced investment to support the FAO in their efforts to scale-up agroecology? Donors and participants tabled several proposals:

  • Match investment and resources to accelerate transitions across scales
  • Secure national government, bi- and multi-lateral resources as anchor investments
  • Mobilize and customize the ecosystem of investment and funding flows toward agroecology
  • Invest in the agroecological value chain or food web, to support farmers to increase their production, add value to their products, access markets, and connect to or establish agroecological food systems
  • Support the development of training materials that stimulate and support circles of local knowledge
  • Track and monitor pilots carefully so we can learn from them, make improvements, and share the learning, not to replicate but to have examples that inspire others to develop their own initiatives
  • Invest in and strengthen farmer-managed seed systems

A second event brought together a diverse group of 50 philanthropic, bi-lateral and multi-lateral donors over dinner to discuss how to better coordinate efforts moving forward. A follow-up webinar and in-person meeting are being planned to continue this important conversation, set priorities, and identify ways to share information and strategies across donor organizations.

If we are going to realize a future of food that is renewable, resilient, diverse, equitable, healthy, and interconnected, we are going to have to challenge the status quo and offer positive solutions. Transformational change at the scale and speed needed will require all actors to do their part, with significant resources to adequately and effectively support this critical work.

The benefits of agroecological practices are clear, strategies to scale-up and accelerate the transition to agroecology are solidifying, and collaboration amongst actors is coalescing. Donors play a pivotal role and should work together to coordinate their efforts and build an investment ecosystem that supports agroecology.

Let’s continue the conversation.