Understanding the Evidence for Agroecology, Regenerative Approaches, and Indigenous Foodways

Evidence biases and narrow thinking holding back food and climate action, this report states.

The report The Politics of Knowledge: Understanding the Evidence for Agroecology, Regenerative Approaches, and Indigenous Foodways was released by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food in December 2021. 

The industrialised food system is one of the biggest stressors on planetary health, contributing almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions and driving 80 per cent of biodiversity loss. Agroecology, regenerative farming practices, and Indigenous knowledge are pathways to sustainable food systems, and they offer a way to repair the relationship between people and nature. Evidence in support of these pathways exists in abundance but, authors argue, is not prioritised in policy, finance or practice because a narrow view of what counts as valid evidence holds back real action – and sows seeds of doubt.

The report sheds light on the most common narratives about the future of food and addresses questions about yield, scaling potential, and economic viability. Diverse forms of evidence – such as lived experience, traditional knowledge, scientific analyses, storytelling and peer-reviewed literature – are harnessed throughout to challenge assumptions, the authors say.

Examples of evidence available is provided from a range of case studies including a cooperative farmer research collaborative in the Andes, agroecology at scale in Andhra Pradesh, Malawi and Senegal, Indigenous food systems in India and Mexico, agroecological performance measurement undertaken by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and regenerative approaches in the USA and New Zealand.  
 
Key findings: 

  • Entrenched histories that uphold colonial and western ways of thinking drive today’s evidence biases 
  • Narratives are used as a tool to delegitimise and keep solutions at the margins
  • Without diverse evidence, we will be limited to ineffective and siloed “silver bullet” solutions to the big global challenges we face 
  • Agroecology, regenerative approaches and Indigenous foodways are systemic solutions that are already delivering positive health and nutrition outcomes, a sense of purpose and dignity, social justice and climate action, for millions of people worldwide 
  • The current system for academic valuation must be reformed so that outcomes other than scientific publications and policy briefs are encouraged
  • Participatory research and feminist methodologies generate vital new ideas that drive community agricultural development.

A core recommendation of the report is that philanthropic, public and private funders and donors catalyse a transformative research and action agenda which is transdisciplinary, focuses on political and social justice and food sovereignty, and challenges vested interests. The authors note that changing today’s research, education, and innovation systems will unlock structural barriers – such as short term thinking, 'cheap' food, and narrow measures of success.

Seventy contributing authors from across 15 countries organised into 17 teams were engaged in this project. They include organisations and networks of practitioners, researchers, farmers and food providers, Indigenous Peoples and foundations working on food systems at national and international levels. 

(Global Alliance for the Future of Food/ile)

Read more and download the report at the Global Alliance for the Future of Food website

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