Some of the special terms that we use to talk about our work often deserve some introduction. In the section below, we provide a short description for some of these terms to provide you a sense of how they fit within our approach.
Agroecology: Transdisciplinary and Transformative
“Agroecology” is a way of understanding and designing food systems using social, ecological, and political principles to regenerate nature and create a more just society. It is rooted in indigenous practices and ancestral knowledge, which are combined with scientific knowledge to address the current food crisis. Agroecology is not only about changing farming techniques, but is also about transforming policy, science, cultures, and economies to bring about more just food systems.
Articulations of agroecology from our network
“Agroecology is the answer to how to transform and repair our material reality in a food system and rural world that has been devastated by industrial food production and its so-called Green and Blue Revolutions. We see Agroecology as a key form of resistance to an economic system that puts profit before life. […] Our diverse forms of smallholder food production based on Agroecology generate local knowledge, promote social justice, nurture identity and culture, and strengthen the economic viability of rural areas. As smallholders, we defend our dignity when we choose to produce in an agroecological way.” Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology, 2015
In its report, the High Level Panel of Experts defines agroecology as, “approaches that favour the use of natural processes, limit the use of purchased inputs, promote closed cycles with minimal negative externalities and stress the importance of local knowledge and participatory processes that develop knowledge and practice through experience, as well as more conventional scientific methods, and address social inequalities. Agroecological approaches recognize that agrifood systems are coupled social–ecological systems from food production to consumption and involve science, practice and a social movement, as well as their holistic integration, to address [food and nutritional security] (p. 14).
“Food is not a commodity but a human right, recognized by states through different legal instruments. By recognizing this right, states have the obligation to respect, protect and guarantee the people’s right to food — especially of food producers — to guarantee the right to decent work and employment as well as to a fair wage, based on the principles of social justice and human dignity,” First Assembly of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty of Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Agroecology is a way of life and the language of Nature, that we learn as her children. It is not a mere set of technologies or production practices. It cannot be implemented the same way in all territories. Rather it is based on principles that, while they may be similar across the diversity of our territories, can and are practiced in many different ways, with each sector contributing their own colors of their local reality and culture, while always respecting Mother Earth and our common, shared values.” Declaration of the International Forum of Agroecology, 2015
Anderson, C.R., Bruil, J., Chappell, J., Kiss, C., Pimbert, M.P. (2021). AgroecologyNow! Transformations for a More Just and Sustainable Food Systems. Palgrave-MacMillan. Open Access. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-61315-0
Méndez, V.E., C.M. Bacon, R. Cohen and S.R. Gliessman (Eds.) (2016) Agroecology: a transdisciplinary, participatory and action-oriented approach. Advances in Agroecology. CRC Press/Taylor and Francis.
Salvador, R.J. & V.E.Méndez (Guest Editors) (2015) New pathways to sustainability in agroecological systems. Elementa Forum. Elementa: science of the anthropocene 3: in progress.
Participatory Action Research (PAR)
Our work is grounded in a participatory action research approach. That means that we do research with and for farmers, indigenous people, movements and communities who are working to build more just and sustainable food systems. Critical participatory action research (CPAR) is "a framework for engaging research with communities interested in documenting, challenging, and transforming conditions of social injustice." We strive to adopt CPAR as the basis of our research, learning and action as a framework that we believe is rooted in the three pillars of the IFA: Partipaction, Equity, Social Transformation.
PAR has been described as an emergent process; not something that you always assert when beginning, but instead a progression that can be achieved with the right intentions and dedicated actors. The agroecological principle of integrating farmer/local and scientific knowledge represents one of the core intersections for science and practice in agroecology. It also provides a natural setting for Participatory Action Research (PAR). When used in combination with agroecological principles, PAR offers a practical approach for bringing forward the expertise of non-researchers – including smallholder farmers and others who have deep knowledge of place, content and practices, and who become active partners with those trained more formally in research and experimental design. Ideally, the result of this collaborative work is knowledge that has been co-created and that is actionable.
Transdisciplinary research can be understood in a diversity of ways, depending on the background and perspective of those addressing it. At the IFA we understand and adopt a transdisciplinary research approach that is characterized by:
- An intentional valuing and integration of different academic disciplines, ranging from the natural sciences to the humanities.
- An intentional valuing and integration of different forms of knowledge or knowledge systems, such as indigenous, local or empirical knowledge (or non-academic).
- An orientation towards finding solutions to problems/issues.
The application of a transdisciplinary approach is a challenging and complex endeavor that requires commitment and intention. At the IFA, we aspire to combine this perspective with agroecology and participatory action research (PAR), in order to better understand and seek solutions to pressing agrifood system issues.