New IFAD report suggests agroecology can address food systems failures

In its first comprehensive assessment of agroecology, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has announced that 60% of its projects use practices from this holistic approach to sustainable agricultural production. The organisation recommends it as one effective way to transform food systems to address rising hunger, malnutrition, climate change and ecosystem fragility.   

Agroecology combines farmers’ traditional knowledge with scientific innovations, and integrates ecological, economic and social development. It emphasises the importance of small-scale producers in food systems, and connects them more directly to consumers to deliver sustainably produced, healthy, nutritious and affordable food for all.

“We live in a world of plenty, yet one in 10 people are hungry, and three billion people cannot afford healthy diets,” said Thouraya Triki, director of IFAD’s Sustainable Production, Markets and Institutions Division who oversaw the production of the report. “Adopting agroecological practices is a major step to addressing these failures in our food systems.”  

Reviewing an extensive sample of projects, The Stocktake Report on Agroecology in IFAD Operations: An Integrated Approach to Sustainable Food Systems assessed how the projects support efficient resource use; recycling of water, nutrients, biomass and energy; levels of diversification and use of agrobiodiversity; natural resource management; and innovations to connect producers and consumers. The report showed that agroecological farming practices are applicable and effective across various climatic and landscape conditions, and can be adapted to different soil types and natural resource availability.

An increasing demand for healthy, nutritious food combined with a growing population and escalating impacts of climate change challenges the way food is produced and consumed.

In fact, the UN Food Systems Summit held on 23 September focused on concrete commitments and approaches to transform food systems so that farmers can be more resilient to climate change, and produce nutritious, affordable food without compromising natural resources and ecosystems. Agroecology has become more prominent on the global agenda in recent years as an innovative way to effectively achieve this outcome. 

Agroecology emphasises the empowerment of farmers, the importance of their own knowledge, innovations and adaptations, and the intrinsic connection of their cultural values to the food they produce. The report concludes that projects using agroecological approaches more frequently benefit indigenous peoples than other project types. It also highlights the positive impact agroecology can have on gender and youth empowerment.  

In Sudan, for example, an IFAD-supported project trained young people at risk of unemployment and migration to provide agroecology advisory services to their communities, resulting in a transition to sustainable forests and rangelands and better water management.