25.06.2018

In the face of this continued spread of Green Revolution farming, advocates for agroecology try to claim success at the level of individual demonstration projects. One early example is a report on NGO-led projects in nine different Latin American countries originally prepared in 1999 by Miguel Altieri. This report claimed “yield increases” between 20 per cent and 200 per cent. But on closer inspection, only one of the nine projects employed the signature agroecology technique of intercropping, and several were based on techniques widely employed by conventional farms, such as crop rotations and cover crops. More importantly, high yields are not a good measure of success if they depend on burdensome labour requirements. Peasant farmers are glad to provide this labour as long as NGO project leaders are paying them to do so, but when the external support drops off the labour effort drops off as well.
Agroecologists in Latin America have tried to recreate the supposed abundance of pre-Columbian raised bed farming systems, but they learn once again that the labour costs are too high. The waru-waru system used by the Inca required hand planting, hand weeding, hand harvest, and laborious maintenance annually, plus a rebuilding of the beds every ten years. Two decades ago, a report by the Organization of American States (OAS) on waru-waru farming in Peru showed that the production costs in this system worked out at 480 US dollars for each 11.2 kg of potatoes.

Most recently, agroecology advocates have claimed the island nation of Cuba as a success story. Cuban farmers lost their access to highly subsidised imports of fuel and agricultural chemicals when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, so many retreated from modern methods to pre-industrial techniques. They replaced tractors with oxen and hand hoes and fertilisers with animal manure, and they controlled pests not with chemicals but with biological methods and intercropping.