AVSF works with smallholder communities to identify, test, adapt and validate effective agroecology techniques. This work also involves creating the right conditions to develop those techniques in order to profoundly transform agrifood systems.
Agricultural systems are in crisis
Demographic pressure from humans and animals has often led to the abandoning of traditional methods for sustainably managing natural resources, which has resulted in their gradual degradation. But the agricultural intensification methods promoted by the green revolution (based on intensive use of synthetic inputs and artificialization of the environment) are expensive, and their consequences are now clear: degradation of ecosystems, drop in soil fertility, loss of agricultural and wild biodiversity, risks for human and animal health, etc. The main victims are smallholder families, some of whom are trapped in an agricultural model that they do not have the means to support. They are struggling to feed themselves and to lead a decent life from their own production, especially as global warming is now affecting agriculture too.
The urgency of agroecological transitions
That observation calls for urgent measures which AVSF has steadfastly defended for over ten years: the transition to agroecology. That transition is in line with the objective to boost the productivity of crop and livestock farming in order to promote financial and food independence while preserving, and even restoring, the quality of natural resources and ensuring greater resilience to climate and economic shocks and health risks. The idea is to optimize the natural potential of ecosystems, while reducing dependence on external synthetic inputs. Four pillars guide AVSF’s work in its projects to support the transition to agroecology (see opposite).
The transition to agroecology, as developed by AVSF, is a complex and systemic process that is neither instantaneous nor one-dimensional. Instead of applying a universal model for agroecology, the idea is to work with smallholders to adapt and invent proposals that are tailored to the specific conditions of each local area.
- Practices : AVSF offers to (re)introduce and combine agricultural practices that are based on the traditional knowledge of local smallholders and perfected through recent scientific and technical innovations that are tested and approved in collaboration with smallholder organizations. These may include: companion planting and crop rotation; organic solutions for pest control; conservation of water, soil and forests (particularly through agroforestry); promotion of agricultural biodiversity and smallholder seeds; strong connections between crop and livestock farming for organic fertilization of the land; composting; and ethnoveterinary practices.
- Principles : The transition to agroecology is based on several principles which guide the initiatives put in place by AVSF. Agroecology systems must make coordinated use of the cycles and flows of natural resources (water, nitrogen, nutrients, etc.) to boost the productivity of crop and livestock farming through intensive use of natural synergies without degrading ecosystems. Those systems must allow producers to become more independent when it comes to food, their financial situation (particularly by reducing the use of external chemical inputs) and how they choose to manage their farms and livestock.
- Conditions : The conditions required for the development of agroecology are as simple as having secure access to land and water. The right conditions should also be put in place to ensure that smallholders have access to services upstream of production: credit, seeds, organic inputs, small machinery (carts, plows, kassines, etc.) or infrastructure (manure pits, animal enclosures, etc.), local veterinary services, etc. Downstream, the idea is to help smallholder organizations process and sell their harvests and gain access to suitable certification systems and information about markets so that they can promote their production on transparent and lucrative supply chains and markets locally and abroad. It also involves changing the action-research initiatives by building on existing practices and know-how, and changing the methods for training and assisting smallholders in the transition to agroecology
- Scales : The transition to agroecology needs to be expanded to cover different geographic and political scales. Agroecology practices must be adapted to the ecosystems of each parcel of land, farm and region. There needs to be concertation between users at regional level for the sustainable, collective and peaceful management of natural resources. Local authorities and all local actors need to rethink land use, the design of infrastructure, the development of services and companies and the organization of the food system in its entirety. Lastly, at government level, public policies need to ensure the right conditions for smallholder families to make that transition and they need to facilitate regulation between the actors involved: producer organizations, small and medium sized companies, very small companies, industries, communities, public services and consumers.
Helping 1,000 Lenca families improve their skills in the production and sale of agroecology products; helping women and young people market their goods and influencing local and national public policy
Improving food and nutritional security in West Africa by using agroecology to develop more resilient farming techniques