Over 100 field experts, practitioners, young leaders, and entrepreneurs joined the first session of Agroecology for Food System Change: A dialogue series on land, life, and livelihood with invited speakers Dr Vandana Shiva, a globally acclaimed environmental expert and advocate and Director of Navdanya International and Dr Chris Bacon, Associate Professor at the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Santa Clara University and co-founder of the Environmental Justice and the Common Good Initiative, along with representatives from local initiatives in Nicaragua and northern California in the US.
Agroecology: Working with the land and upholding integrity of Creation
Dr Shiva provided a global overview on the prevailing food system and how it is inextricably linked to the socioeconomic, ecological, and health crises being experienced at present. The current perception of food solely as a commodity resulted to highly extractive practices that eventually shaped the existing model of industrial agriculture, in which “yield per acre” has become the sole basis of economic productivity.
She discussed that industrial agriculture is misguided by the “yield per acre” principle as “yield” does not measure the fertility of the land, the quality of food, and the vitality of life. As a result, agriculture has become an extractive industry that leads to socioeconomic injustices, ecological degradation, and contributes to the climate crisis.
With such a detrimental system in place, people are losing access to food security and sovereignty which is exacerbated by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This brings to light the deep-seated issues of the current food system and how transitioning from “yield per acre” to “nutrition per acre” is critical. Dr. Shiva emphasized the need to shift to an agribusiness model that feeds the people through agroecology.
Agroecology works with the land and upholds integrity of Creation by integrating ecological principles into agricultural practices. Understanding how the land works through agroecology entails giving back to the Earth with a sense of gratitude. Hence, driven by the “ethics of gratitude” as Dr. Shiva highlighted, agroecology is where to start for the Earth to become a place for healing.
Agroecology and participatory action research: Empowering partnerships for food justice
Dr Bacon shared community-based initiatives that contribute to food security through participatory action research, highlighting the value of food which is deep and integral as it connects social values and ideas grounded on ethics, culture, and justice. The role of participatory action research is vital in this context as it builds long-term community-based partnerships and recognizes the importance of local wisdom, culture, and practices to move towards food justice.
In Nicaragua, agroecology and participatory action research aimed to address food security through local-based initiatives such as crop diversification and establishment of seed banks, leading to the promotion of small-scale farming, healthier diets, and improved productivity. Dr. Bacon then shared key points in building resilience as evidenced by this engagement with the community:
- Consider local context, knowledge, and creative responses
- Across households, correlate food security with income/wealth, size of land for farming, and diversified food production
- Uphold the right of farmers to better and just deals through broader food policy changes and implementation strategies
Dr. Bacon proceeded to discuss community-based food justice responses to COVID-19 in Northern California, particularly in the Silicon Valley and Bay Area communities wherein the impacts of the lockdown aggravated food insecurity and poverty. With millions of people affected, several movements and collaborations emerged to meet short-term food needs and build food sovereignty. Participants of the food system were also engaged in dialogues to manifest the right of people to a healthy and culturally appropriate food production system.
Local agroecology action: Food justice responses to COVID-19
Raul Lozano, founder and executive director of Valley Verde, a grassroots food justice organization, shared that through collaborations with the community, local and urban farms, and other organizations, seedlings were provided to affected families in San Jose, California to promote food production and self-sufficiency. The initiative was a success as families grew and cared for their own gardens, thereby providing access to food and promoting healthier diets.
Andy Ollove from Fresh Approach shared how the organization adopted a regional food system response to building food security among affected communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Emphasizing that locally grown food is the foundation of a healthy community, Fresh Approach partnered with local and urban farms and distributed locally grown food to families in need during the pandemic, highlighting the important role of local farmers in supporting food security especially amid the crisis.
Fernando Fernandez Leiva of the La Mesa Verde program of Sacred Heart Community Service, a network of urban gardeners, shared how the network contributed to knowledge and community-building through backyard gardening (https://farmforcare.ecojesuit.com/la-mesa-verde-gardening-in-time-of-crisis/). Aside from promoting food production and self-sufficiency, this initiative also seeks to inspire families to start their own organic garden and empower communities to challenge the prevailing food system.
New gardens of hope: Advancing agroecology through alliances and networks
A brief roundtable discussion shared the ways forward to advance the shift in the food system through agroecology. While inspiring communities to become self-sufficient through home gardening is an effective short-term solution, imparting of knowledge, and the development of alliances and expansion of networks advance the changes sought in challenging the prevailing food system. By building networks and upholding indigenous knowledge, wisdom, and culture, “new gardens of hope” are created that contribute to redefining humanity’s future.
This dialogue series emerged from the Ecojesuit dialogues with the six Jesuit conferences in which connecting agroecology and entrepreneurship was identified as one of the six Ecojesuit lead actions to contribute to build a better normal. This dialogue series also builds from a previous webinar in July 2020, Protecting Earth – Our Common Home: Reviving Agroecology. Future sessions in early 2021 will focus on contexts in other regions like South America, Africa, and Asia.
The webinar can be viewed here.