The following summary of an article “Agroecology.” was published on 31 August 2021 by Pimbert, M.P., Moeller, N.I., Singh, J., and Anderson, C.R. in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Oxford University Press, 2018— at https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190854584.013.298
Agroecology is an alternative paradigm (model) for agriculture and food systems that is simultaneously: (a) the application of ecological principles to food and farming systems that emerge from specific socioecological and cultural contexts in place-based territories; and (b) a social and political process that centres the knowledge and agency of Indigenous peoples and peasants in determining agri-food system policy and practice.
Historically, agroecology is associated with a multifaceted body of transdisciplinary knowledge. The academic literature emphasizes the role of scientists in developing an interdisciplinary agroecology over the past ninety years. However, the practice of agroecology is much older, with deep roots in many Indigenous and peasant societies of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Polynesia. Although these societies never adopted the term “agroecology,” their time-tested practices in growing food and fibre illustrate many principles of modern agroecology.
The transdisciplinary field of research on agroecology examines how agroecology contributes to equitable and sustainable food and fibre production, processing, distribution, and consumption. Agroecology builds on people’s knowledge, Indigenous management systems, and local institutions through “dialogues of knowledges” with social science, natural science, and the humanities. The study of Indigenous and peasant agri-food systems has thus been pivotal for the development of both agroecology and anthropology.
The agroecological perspective is based on a transformative vision of the relationship between people and nature. Economic anthropology has unearthed a wide diversity of systems of economic exchange that are informing work on agroecology, including the vital importance of Indigenous and peasant economies, gift economies, circular economies, subsistence, and economies of care. These are pushing agroecologists to think outside of the box of dominant commodity capitalism. Agroecology is also based on a radical conceptualisation of knowledge systems, whereby work on cognitive justice, epistemic justice, Indigeneity, and decoloniality is upending the dominance of Western, scientific, Eurocentric, and patriarchal worldviews as the basis for the future of food and agriculture. Agroecology is also underpinned by radical notions of democracy and new conceptualizations of popular education, transformations in governance, and empowering forms of participation.
While the transformative agenda offered by agroecology is deeply contested by proponents of industrial and corporate food and agriculture, agroecology is increasingly important in academic and policy debates on sustainable food, farming, and land use. Exploring the relationship between agroecology and anthropology is both fruitful and timely because it can help re-root agroecology—which is increasingly at risk of becoming an abstract and devitalised concept—in the fundamentally localised practices and culture of agri-food systems.
Please note that the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology will move behind the paywall on 29 September 2021.
With thanks to Melanie Fryer ACE Food Group lead.