Agroecology: What is it? Characteristics, principles and differences with organic or organic farming

As a relatively recent discipline, agroecology is still somewhat unknown, and its term is often confused with organic farming .

We tell you what agroecology is and how it differs from ecological, bio or organic agriculture, what are its main characteristics and the principles to follow for an optimal transition from a conventional agricultural system to a sustainable agricultural system, where the use of harmful chemical inputs.

What is agroecology?

The term “agroecology” emerged in the 1970s. Agroecology, or agroecological science, is a scientific discipline based on the application of the concepts and principles of ecology in the design, development and management of sustainable agricultural systems.

What is the purpose of agroecology? Obtain healthier foods than those produced by conventional agriculture through a comprehensive view of the ecosystem —including the social component—, while conserving natural resources and biodiversity.

eye! Agroecology is not synonymous with organic farming. Agroecology is a theoretical approach that seeks to increase agrarian sustainability from ecological, social and economic perspectives. While organic farming is the implementation or putting into practice of this strategy. Agroecology «endows so-called“ ecological ”agriculture with a scientific base» ( Basic manual of organic farming pdf. , 131 KB).


Characteristics of agroecology

Although we speak of a “scientific discipline”, agroecology is at the same time a science, a set of practices and a social movement, as indicated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

  • As an agroecological science, it studies the interaction between the different components of the ecosystem.
  • As a set of practices, it tries to obtain sustainable agricultural systems, with an optimized and stable food production.
  • As a social stream, it promotes social justice, reinforces the identity and culture of rural environments, and strengthens their economy.


The 10 principles of agroecology

There are different stages to produce agroecologically, although the most complex is the transition stage.

To facilitate the process, FAO establishes ten guiding principles or elements to guide countries – practitioners, policy makers and other stakeholders in planning, managing and evaluating such transition – towards integration of sustainable agriculture on a large scale, transforming their agricultural and food systems. These are:

  1. Diversity

Agroecological systems favor species diversity, and conserve and enhance natural resources. “Increasing biodiversity contributes to a number of production, socio-economic, nutritional and environmental benefits.

  1. Co-creation and knowledge sharing

Agroecology promotes participatory processes, the sharing of the knowledge of farmers and producers, traders and scientists in the development and implementation of agroecological innovations.


  1. Synergies

Agroecology is particularly concerned with the design of diversified systems that combine “annual and perennial crops, livestock, aquatic animals, trees, soils, water and other components” to increase synergies.

  1. Efficiency

That is, producing more using fewer external resources. In addition to improving the use of abundant and free natural resources such as solar radiation, atmospheric carbon and nitrogen.


  1. Recycling

“Recycling organic materials and by-products holds enormous possibilities.” The recycling of nutrients, biomass and water entails lower environmental costs, by minimizing waste and pollution, and economic.

  1. Resilience

These systems, thanks to the fact that they maintain a functional balance, show a greater capacity to recover from extreme meteorological phenomena such as floods or droughts, and from the attack of pests and diseases.


  1. Human and social values

Values ​​such as dignity, equity, inclusion and justice, addressing gender inequality and creating opportunities for women and youth in rural areas. “… agroecology equips people to become their own agents of change.”


  1. Culture and food traditions

“… agroecology seeks to cultivate a healthy relationship between people and food”, based on the fact that agriculture and food traditions are fundamental elements of the heritage of the territories and are an essential part of their cultural identity.


  1. Responsible governance

A transparent and inclusive governance of land and natural resources, at different scales: local, community or territorial, national and global.


  1. Circular and solidarity economy

Giving priority to traditional territorial markets, more equitable and sustainable, since in them small producers market their own products, and supporting local economic development. “Strengthening short food circuits can increase income for food producers while maintaining a fair price for consumers.”

Agroecology is a science and also a philosophy of life . And according to FAO, it is above all family farmers, small local farmers, who have the necessary tools to put it into practice: knowledge and wisdom. These farmers from around the world “are the key elements for agroecological food production.”

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