The Transformative Partnership Platform on Agroecology (TPP) organised an online event on ‘Research on agroecology: current strengths and innovative futures for sustainable food systems,’ which brought together leading scientists and experts in agricultural research and development, to discuss the role of scientific inquiry in transitioning to inclusive, healthy and equitable food systems based on the principles of agroecology.
The two-hour interactive webinar on the 27th October sought to highlight the opportunities and challenges between sustainable intensification and agroecological transformation and comprised three parts:
The event turned out to be a big success, with over 500 attendees from all around the world, a dynamic Q&A and positive feedback.
After the introduction was made by Etienne Hainzelin, the moderator of the event and emeritus researcher at CIRAD, Bernard Hubert, President of the French Committee on International Agricultural Research (CRAI), outlined the rationale behind the latest edition of the Agropolis Dossier, published ahead of the UN World Food Systems Summit in September. He made the following points:
the urgency of agroecological transformation of agri-food systems linked to SDGs needed to be high on the agenda at the UN World Food Systems Summit 2021
the diversity of agriculture heralds the way to a variety of agroecological transition pathways and a diversity of means for public action
similarities in terms of understanding biology, ecology, and socioeconomics of agroecosystems and their functioning, as well as approaches to risk management
ICARDA’s Stefanie Christmann presented a new agroecological approach that entails farming with alternative pollinators – also known as FAP – and illustrated how it benefits pollinators, natural enemies and yields, all the while offering transformative change to agriculture.
“The FAP method uses 75% of the field for the main crops and 25% for habitat enhancement – without wild flowers though, but rather with marketable habitat enhancing plants, such as oil seeds, spices and vegetables. By working as a nature-positive preventive pest control, the FAP approach can help reduce pest abundance by 65%.”
CIFOR – ICRAF’s Stepha McMullin spoke about the customisation of nutritious food tree portfolios for delivering more diversified diet all year round. She noted that:
“One of the biggest problems with food production is a narrow focus on a few, nutritionally-limited crops, which, at the end of the day, undermine human health and degrade ecosystems. To change the trajectory we’re on, local and contextually relevant solutions are needed. One of the solutions developed at CIFOR – ICRAF is something called ‘nutritious food portfolios’, which are all about promoting diversity in local food production systems.”
Nutritious food portfolios combine all types of food trees – not only those that produce fruits, but nuts and leaves as well – with vegetable, pulse and staple crops to address seasonal harvest gaps and micronutrient deficicienies, which may exist in local diets. The portfolios help enhance seasonal availability and diversity of nutrient-rich food.
To conclude Part 1 of the session on the research conducted as part of the Agropolis Dossier, Muriel Mambrini-Doudet of INRAE touched on a current project, which aims to build the framework for the transnational network of living labs in support of the agroecological transition. She pointed out that:
“The transition to agroecology entails a strong evolution of the way we produce and share knowledge, and the living labs sit right at the centre of the interface between the four facets of innovation - technology, intelligence, solutions, and talent.”
Part 2 of the digital session involved H.E. Ambassador Miguel Garcia Winder, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the UN agencies in Rome, Million Belay of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and member of the TPP Steering Committee, Guy Faure from the Sustainable Agri-Food Systems and Fisheries Directorate-General International Partnerships (DG-INTPA) of the European Commission, and Rikke Olivera, Global Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist of IFAD. The speakers shared their perspectives on the need to do research differently.
H.E. Ambassador Miguel Garcia Winder emphasized the need to shift the focus towards policy, market and consumer research, and highlighted what, in his view, are some of the critical issues in scaling agroecology: namely, investments, subsidies, and protection of rights – particularly those of indigenous groups.
Guy Faure talked about the transformative power of innovative, holistic, and systemic research that establishes a virtuous link connecting society and production systems. He also spoke of the need for research to produce knowledge, which can be adapted at a local level, and the necessity to work with local actors and build communities of practice.
Million Belay shared his opinion on why some of the research initiatives in Africa are a failure. He insisted on the fact that participation and co-creation of knowledge are the founding principles of agroecology and yet, on the ground, we do not always see that:
“At times, there is a sense of superiority amongst researchers. Participation is not only giving or asking for data – it has to be much broader than that. Researchers need to participate in all steps of research and problem-solving, working closely with local people and communities.”
Rikke Olivera talked about IFAD’s portfolio of projects and addressed the existing gap in the participatory research approach. She stressed the need for researchers to facilitate farmers’ research agenda, data, and record keeping – or, in other words, help them develop their skills and promote capacity building.
The final part of the event featured Marcela Quintero of the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Matthew McCartney of The International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Vincent Gitz, Director of CGIAR’s Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA)and Catherine Dembele - researcher at of the Institut de l'Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles, Burkina Faso (INERA).
Marcela Quintero and Matthew McCartney discussed the OneCGIAR Agroecology initiative that both of them are leading, and echoed H.E. Ambassador Miguel Garcia Winder's words on the need for more research to be focused on policy.
Vincent Gitz gave a brief overview of how the Agroecology TPP came about and the groundwork that was built in the political and research arena prior to its emergence, underlining the platform’s added value in:
Doing research differently to address knowledge gaps
Working with policy makers and stakeholders in addressing implementation gaps
Addressing a large diversity of local contexts within a common approach
Vincent also spoke about the Coalition for the Transformation of Food Systems Through Agroecology that emerged from the UN Food Systems Summit and already has 27 countries and 35 organizations, including five UN bodies, regional farmer organisations, civil society and research institutions, committed to making agroecological transitions a widespread reality.
As the final speaker in Part 3 of the session, Catherine Dembele shed light on the need to strengthen collaboration between National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS), CGIAR centres and research institutes in developed countries (ARIs).
The closing remarks were given by Juan Lucas Restrepo, Global Director of Partnerships and Advocacy at CGIAR and Director General at the Alliance of Bioversity-CIAT. He underlined that the Alliance is committed to supporting the agroecological transition and the work of the TPP. He took this message on to COP26 in Glasgow, where he highlighted OneCGIAR’s agroecology initiative as critical for reconciling agriculture and climate change in a session on ‘Raising Climate Ambition for Agriculture and Food Systems: Boosting Koronivia’, in which Fergus Sinclair (co-convenor of the TPP) linked this to the emerging coalition to transform food systems through agroecology.
The session gave ample space for audience interactions, including questions in the Q&A function and several audience polls. When asked ‘what is the first priority for doing research differently in agroecology’, the majority of respondents – 42% - chose ‘to be more inclusive and participatory’, 25% went for ‘to have a more food system and territorial approach', 18% chose ‘to be more action-oriented and aligned with SDGs’, and 15% opted ‘to be more systemic’.
To another question – ‘which of the five research domains is most missing today’ – 35% of votes went for ‘public policies to enable agroecology transitions’, 23% of respondents chose ‘agroecological markets, value chains and consumption’, 19% went for ‘behavioural changes’, 16% for ‘private sector engagement and business models’, and 7% chose ‘bio-physical mechanisms for agroecological production'.
All slides presented during the event can be found below.