"Agroecology is a whole different way of thinking about sustainability in food & agricultural systems"

Interview of Prof. Steve Gliessman

Professor Steve Gliessman (University of California, Santa Cruz, USA) is a  main reference for the agroecological sector globally. With the opportunity of the 2nd Agroecology Symposium of FAO, in Rome, and his visit to Greece afterwards, he provided an interview to V. Gkisakis, of Agroecology Greece, with regards the Symposium and the latest developments in Agroecology.

Professor Gliessman, the 2nd FAO Symposium of Argoecology just ended, what would be your general impression of the outcome?

My general impression of the FAO Symposium was very positive, because FAO is a very large intergovernmental organization, it represents 193 nations, and there is a group within FAO pushing really hard to bring agroecology into the workings of FAO, and it was quite remarkable that we had over 750 participants and 72 nations present, and over 350 NGOs who work in agriculture and food systems. The Director-General (of FAO), J. Graziano da Silva, has also been incredibly supportive and opened a small window in the “cathedral of Green Revolution”. I think this symposium gives us an opportunity to get into that window and get inside FAO and become part of its programmes. I really think that’s happening.


So you do see an institutional shift towards agroecology?

I don’t know if the whole organization is shifting but at least they are opening up an opportunity for agroecology to be an additional programme within FAO. And that really comes from the grassroots, from the networks of socials movements from around the world that they have been calling for agroecology. They really had a very strong voice and FAO has been listening, and they represent all the small farmers of the world, that feed 75 - 80% of people in the world with real food, and hence with the 2030 agenda of FAO and the SDGs (Sustanaible Development Goals), FAO realizes that to meet those, it can’t be just business as usual, it has to be different, and agroecology gives them that pathway.


Do you consider agroecology as the main path towards sustainability and resilience in agriculture or another tool inside the toolkit?

Agroecology is not another tool in the toolbox, is a whole different way of thinking about sustainability in food & agricultural systems. So, it really is a way to transform our thinking, to develop a whole different paradigm shift and get away of just thinking that high yields and profits in agriculture, and we really think of getting culture back in agriculture. It’s a people-centered way thinking about the food and agricultural systems. So, it really is a whole alternative way of thinking.


The new narrative of innovation in agriculture talks about digital modernization of farming, smart farming etc. What do you think about these tools could they be used in the agroecological approach?

Only partially, because all they are focused on are farming practices and they don’t really talk about the structural changes needed to take place in food and agricultural systems. They really don’t talk about changing the systems itself which created so much distance between the people who grow the food and the people who eat it, and turned purely into business and extracted business from that. It does not provide health, nutrition or livelihood for farmers. It just a way of the conventional, modern way of agriculture to capture agroecology and use it for keeping themselves in charge of the food systems, so we really need to go beyond that kind of thinking and think about the whole food system.


Nowadays, what would you consider to be the main obstacles for the scaling up of agroecology?

There are actually quite a few “lock-ins”, things that keep farmers from thinking about changing or consumers changing about the way they eat. A lot of it has to do with the strong control of our food system that transnational and large corporations have developed, again, turning it purely into business, rather than something that really supports people. It’s going to be hard to break that. We created a cheap food system, an export oriented and input-intensive dependent system. We should think about bringing back the traditional local knowledge of farming systems that were sustainable for centuries and link with that the science of agroecology. So we put together traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge and we create a totally new way of thinking about the food system, but in the context of that transformative change that needs to take place in the structure of agriculture, so it’s not only environmentally, but also economically and socially sustainable and creates access, opportunity especially for women and young people, so they come to agriculture to food and agricultural systems as a way of life.