Spotlight on SDGs – The case for agroecology

Issues addressed in the 2016 “Spotlight on Sustainable Development” report include an assessment of the transformation of agricultural and food systems in order to achieve SDG 2.

Sustainable Development Goal 2 is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Lim Li Ching of the Third World Network argues that this goal can only be met by shifting from specialised industrial agriculture systems to diversified agroecological systems. Lim assesses the potential of agroecology and its prospects in the “Spotlight on Sustainable Development”, a report published by the Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Diversity is key

Industrial agriculture focuses on specialised commodity crops and industrialised feedlots for livestock. It is characterised by monocultures, genetically uniform varieties and maximisation of yield from a single or limited number of products. Agroecological practices diversify farming landscapes, increase biodiversity, nurture soil health and soil biodiversity, and stimulate interactions among different species. Thus farms provide for their own soil organic matter, pest regulation and weed control and do not need external chemical inputs.

Lim stresses the potential of agroecology to sustainably increase productivity and ensure adequate nutrition through diverse diets. It is also far more suitable to combat hunger and poverty, particularly in times of uncertainty regarding the climate or the economy. Agroecology can deliver strong and stable yields by building environmental and climate resistance. And it draws on the farmers’ knowledge and experience, boosts food sovereignty and thus promotes more localised food systems.

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, sufficiently supported agroecology can double agricultural productivity in entire regions within ten years, thus contributing to meeting Target 2.3 of SDG 2. But Lim also points out that agroecology fits in with Target 2.4, addressing sustainable food production systems and resilient food production practices that help maintain ecosystems, strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change and improve land and soil quality. And regarding Target 2.5, it is able to maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals.

Breaking the locks

However, Lim also refers to factors that “keep farmers (and consumers) locked into the structures and logics of industrial agriculture, while locking out the reforms that are needed”. ‘Lock-ins’ include industrial agriculture becoming self-reinforcing through the investments it requires and the need for returns on these investments, trade and export orientation, expectations of cheap food and indicators tailored to classical agricultural productivity. Here, Lim suggests indicators for sustainable food systems focusing on measures such as nutritional quality, resource efficiency, impact on biodiversity, provision of ecosystem services and impact on livelihoods and equity and maintains that such issues should be considered in the targets for SDG 2.

In the global South, most farms are small, many with plots of less than two hectares. But smallholders produce more than 80 per cent of the food this part of the world consumes. In contrast, over half of the world’s seed market is controlled by just three giant corporations. A mere six firms hold 76 per cent of the global agrochemical market, and ten companies account for almost 95 per cent of the global pesticide market. This concentration of power is referred to by Lim as the ‘mother of all lock-ins’, since it tends to reinforce the other factors. Given these powerful feedback loops, she believes that political priorities have to be set to enable a systemic transition from industrial agriculture to agroecology.

Lim maintains that the recommendations given by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) in its 2016 report offer steps to achieve such a transition. The IPES-Food recommendations address new indicators for sustainable food systems, public support for diversified agricultural productions systems and promoting short circuits and alternative retail infrastructures. Public procurement could help boost local agroecological production, and agroecology and holistic food systems could be mainstreamed into education and research agendas. Movements unifying diverse constituencies around agroecology could be strengthened, and food planning processes and food policies ought to be developed at all levels.

IPES-Food is a new panel bringing together various disciplines and types of knowledge and comprising environmental scientists, development economists, nutritionists, agronomists and sociologists, and experienced practitioners from civil society and social movements. The Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development consists of the Third World Network, DAWN – Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era, Global Policy Forum, Social Watch and Arab NGO Network for Development, and it is supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, based in Bonn and Berlin, Germany.


Mike Gardner,
journalist, Bonn/Germany

More information: Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

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