Report submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter
Submitted to the 16th session of the Human Rights Council (28 February – 25 March 2011, Geneva, Switzerland)

This report explores how States can and must achieve a reorientation of their agricultural systems towards modes of production that are highly productive, highly sustainable and that contribute to the progressive realization of the human right to adequate food. Drawing on an extensive review of the scientific literature published in the last five years, the Special Rapporteur identifies agroecology as a mode of agricultural development which not only shows strong conceptual connections with the right to food, but has proven results for fast progress in the concretization of this human right for many vulnerable groups in various countries and environments. Moreover, agroecology delivers advantages that are complementary to better known conventional approaches such as breeding high-yielding varieties. And it strongly contributes to the broader economic development. The report argues that the scaling up of these experiences is the main challenge today. Appropriate public policies can create an enabling environment for such sustainable modes of production. These policies include prioritizing the procurement of public goods in public spending rather than solely providing input subsidies; investing in knowledge by reinvesting in agricultural research and extension services; investing in forms of social organization that encourage partnerships, including farmer field schools and farmers’ movements innovation networks; investing in agricultural research and extension systems; empowering women; and creating a macro-economic enabling environment, including connecting sustainable farms to fair markets.

Agroecology is described as both a science and a set of practices. It was created by the convergence of two scientific disciplines: agronomy and ecology. As a science, agroecology is the “application of ecological science to the study, design and management of sustainable agroecosystems.” As a set of agricultural practices, agroecology seeks ways to enhance agricultural systems by mimicking natural processes, thus creating beneficial biological interactions and synergies among the components of the agroecosystem. The core principles of agroecology include recycling nutrients and energy on the farm, rather than introducing external inputs; integrating crops and livestock; diversifying species and genetic resources in agroecosystems over time and space; and focusing on interactions and productivity across the agricultural system, rather than focusing on individual species. Agroecology is highly knowledge-intensive, based on techniques that are not delivered top-down but developed on the basis of farmers’ knowledge and experimentation. Download the report [pdf] …