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Special Issue "Agroecology at the Crossroads: Challenges for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Wildlife".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 March 2017)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Dr. Manuel González de Molina

Agro-ecosystems History Laboratory, Universidad Pablo de Olavide, 41013 Sevilla, Spain
Website | E-Mail
Phone: +34-954349099
Interests: agroecology; agrarian sustainability; political ecology; environmental history; social metabolism; organic farming
Guest Editor
Dr. Gloria Guzman

Agro-ecosystems History Laboratory, Universidad Pablo de Olavide, 41013 Sevilla, Spain
Website | E-Mail

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Agroecology is a scientific approach that comes to studying agrarian production from an ecological perspective through the coordination of different disciplines. It is a hybrid discipline that, together with Ecological Economics, Political Ecology, and Environmental History, seeks to promote sustainable solutions to the environmental crisis. It is an emerging field that has not yet developed an articulated corpus of theoretical and methodological assumptions capable of offering solutions to the serious problems that compromise the future of agriculture and food in the world. In spite of this, Agroecology has undergone major development, particularly in its practical strand, developing new management strategies for agroecosystems and alternative ways of organising the food distribution. However, equal progress has not been made in other relevant aspects.

Within the purely scientific sphere, there are certain underdeveloped issues such as: the design of sustainable management for agroecosystems at more aggregated scales than the individual farms or local communities; the establishment of an ‘agroecological microeconomy’, adapting the approaches and tools of Ecological Economics to the peculiarities of agriculture and rural world; and, similarly, the proposition of agroecological policies and a new institutional framework on the basis of Political Ecology. Within the more practical or applied sphere, the creation of strategies capable of constructing more sustainable food systems, based on a closer and more direct relationship between production and consumption, has not been developed to the extent one might expect given the multitude of local agroecological experiments developed everywhere, etc.

Following its initial success, and urged on by the severity of the global food crisis, Agroecology is facing some very important challenges that it must tackle and debate as collectively and broadly as possible. For example, how to avoid the academic and political co-optation it has been subject to as a scientific approach for some time now. This attempt to co-optation aims to strip Agroecology of its potential for change from an epistemological perspective and also from the perspective of its unavoidable social commitment to sustainability, fostering a ‘weak’ or merely ‘technological’ version of agrarian sustainability and separating it from its inescapable commitment to transform the conventional food system. In this respect, there is on-going debate around so-called ‘ecological intensification’ and how it fits into Agroecology. It is also facing more practical but equally important challenges. How, for example, to prevent agroecological experiences reverting to conventional production and distribution, a process called by the scientific literature as ‘conventionalisation’ process.

This Special Issue invites papers that reflect on these and other challenges faced by Agroecology, or papers offering specific solutions to them, with the seriousness and rigour required by scientific debate and this journal.

Dr. Manuel González de Molina
Dr. Gloria Guzman
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • agroecology
  • local food systems
  • conventionalisation
  • sustainable landscapes
  • agroecological movements and experiences
  • food Sovereignty
  • political Agroecology
  • agroecological Economics

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle Farmer Cooperation as a Means for Creating Local Food Systems—Potentials and Challenges
Sustainability 2017, 9(6), 925; doi:10.3390/su9060925
Received: 22 December 2016 / Revised: 25 April 2017 / Accepted: 20 May 2017 / Published: 1 June 2017
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (452 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Facing the continuous loss of family-run farms across Europe, farmers are seeking new pathways to sustainability. One such pathway is involvement in local food supply systems. Often, this requires new forms of cooperation among farmers and with consumers. Little is known, however, about
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Facing the continuous loss of family-run farms across Europe, farmers are seeking new pathways to sustainability. One such pathway is involvement in local food supply systems. Often, this requires new forms of cooperation among farmers and with consumers. Little is known, however, about how this cooperation works in practice and how it might be better fostered. This paper aims to illustrate various forms of cooperation in relation to small-scale farming and the establishment of local food supply. It sheds light on challenges farmers are facing and on the potential measures they can adopt to tackle these challenges. By means of an Austrian case study, researchers applied a participatory method (Social Multi-Criteria Evaluation) and conducted workshops with farmers. Research shows that local production, processing and distribution infrastructure becomes more affordable when farmers collaborate with each other and with consumers and institutions. Furthermore, sharing and collectively developing know-how helps to optimise local farming and food supply systems. However, farmers often lack the knowledge and time to establish new collaborations and to re-organise labour, logistics and communication processes. They would benefit from the availability of cooperative schemes that help facilitate such processes and innovations. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Development of Organic Farming in Europe at the Crossroads: Looking for the Way Forward through System Archetypes Lenses
Sustainability 2017, 9(5), 821; doi:10.3390/su9050821
Received: 31 March 2017 / Revised: 8 May 2017 / Accepted: 9 May 2017 / Published: 15 May 2017
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Abstract
Over the last several decades, policymakers and stakeholders in the European Union (EU) have put considerable effort into increasing the adoption of organic farming, with the overall objective of its sustainable development. However, the growth of the organic sector has come with many
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Over the last several decades, policymakers and stakeholders in the European Union (EU) have put considerable effort into increasing the adoption of organic farming, with the overall objective of its sustainable development. However, the growth of the organic sector has come with many challenges that jeopardize its sustainability. The question then is how to move organic farming in Europe forward and at the same time capitalize on its potential contribution to sustainability? Organic farming in the EU is a highly complex and dynamic food system and as such this question cannot be answered in isolation using a one-dimensional mind-set and tools of the past. In this paper, we use three system archetypes—Limits to Growth, Shifting the Burden and Eroding Goals—to sharpen our ability: (1) to analyze and anticipate difficulties in the development of organic farming in the EU under the current policy measures; and (2) to find effective ways to address these difficulties. A system archetype consists of a generic system structure that leads to unintended behavior over time and effective strategies for changing the structure into one that generates desirable behavior. The analysis reveals that in order to move forward, policymakers and stakeholders should reemphasize fundamental solutions rather than quick fixes that often generate unintended consequences. Specifically, Limits to Growth shows us that the leverage for moving organic farming out of the niche does not necessarily lie in increasing subsidies that push engines of growth, but rather in anticipating and managing its limits arising from, for instance, market dynamics or intrinsic environmental motivation. In turn, Shifting the Burden brings to attention how easily and unnoticeably the EU’s organic farming system can become dependent on third countries thereby undermining its own sustainability. Finally, Eroding Goals highlights that is it important to continuously improve regulatory standards based on an external frame of reference, as otherwise organic farming in the EU will continue on its trajectory towards conventionalization. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Integrating Agroecology and Participatory Action Research (PAR): Lessons from Central America
Sustainability 2017, 9(5), 705; doi:10.3390/su9050705
Received: 3 February 2017 / Revised: 20 April 2017 / Accepted: 24 April 2017 / Published: 28 April 2017
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (790 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The last decade has seen an increasing advancement and interest in the integration of agroecology and participatory action research (PAR). This article aims to: (1) analyze the key characteristics and principles of two case studies that integrated PAR and agroecology in Central America;
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The last decade has seen an increasing advancement and interest in the integration of agroecology and participatory action research (PAR). This article aims to: (1) analyze the key characteristics and principles of two case studies that integrated PAR and agroecology in Central America; and (2) learn from the lessons offered by these case studies, as well as others from the literature, on how to better integrate PAR and agroecology. Key principles identified for effective PAR agroecological processes include a shared interest in research by partners, a belief in collective power/action, a commitment to participation, practicing humility and establishing trust and accountability. Important lessons to consider for future work include: (1) research processes that did not start as PAR, can evolve into it; (2) farmer/stakeholder participation in setting the research agenda, from the outset, results in higher engagement and enhanced outcomes; (3) having the right partners for the desired outcomes is key; (4) intentional and explicit reflection is an essential component of PAR processes; and (5) cross-generational collaborations are crucial to long-term benefits. Key challenges that confront PAR processes include the need for time and resources over longer periods; the complexity of multi-actor process facilitation; and institutional barriers within the academy and development organizations, which prevent shifting investment towards integrated PAR agroecological processes. Full article
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Agroecology, Public Policies and Labor-Driven Intensification: Alternative Development Trajectories in the Brazilian Semi-Arid Region
Sustainability 2017, 9(4), 535; doi:10.3390/su9040535
Received: 30 December 2016 / Revised: 9 March 2017 / Accepted: 29 March 2017 / Published: 31 March 2017
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Abstract
The institutional recognition obtained by family farming in Brazil over recent decades has translated into the launching of a broad and diverse set of public policies specifically aimed towards this sociopolitical category. However, the design of these policies was heavily influenced by the
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The institutional recognition obtained by family farming in Brazil over recent decades has translated into the launching of a broad and diverse set of public policies specifically aimed towards this sociopolitical category. However, the design of these policies was heavily influenced by the productivist bias derived from the agricultural modernization paradigm, making the sector increasingly dependent on input and capital markets. In this same movement of institutional evolution, policies consistent with the agroecological approach created new margins for maneuvering for development trajectories founded on the use of local resources self-controlled by rural families and communities. Taking as a reference the recent trajectory of rural development in Brazil’s semi-arid region, the article analyses the role of the agroecological perspective in the strategic combination between territorially endogenous rural resources and public resources redistributed by the State. Based on the analysis of the economy of agroecosystems linked to two sociotechnical networks structured by contrasting logics of productive intensification, the study demonstrates agroecology’s potential as a scientific-technological approach for the combined attainment of various Sustainable Development Goals, starting with the economic and political emancipation of the socially most vulnerable portions of the rural population. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Technological Approaches to Sustainable Agriculture at a Crossroads: An Agroecological Perspective
Sustainability 2017, 9(3), 349; doi:10.3390/su9030349
Received: 24 November 2016 / Revised: 22 February 2017 / Accepted: 23 February 2017 / Published: 27 February 2017
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (807 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Most efforts to improve agricultural production remain focused on practices driven by an intensification agenda and not by an agroecological one. Agroecology transcends the reformist notion of organic agriculture and sustainable intensification proponents who contend that changes can be achieved within the dominant
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Most efforts to improve agricultural production remain focused on practices driven by an intensification agenda and not by an agroecological one. Agroecology transcends the reformist notion of organic agriculture and sustainable intensification proponents who contend that changes can be achieved within the dominant agroindustrial system with minor adjustments or “greening” of the current neoliberal agricultural model. In the technological realm, merely modifying practices to reduce input use is a step in the right direction but does not necessarily lead to the redesign of a more self sufficient and autonomous farming system. A true agroecological technological conversion calls into question monoculture and the dependency on external inputs. Traditional farming systems provide models that promote biodiversity, thrive without agrochemicals, and sustain year-round yields. Conversion of conventional agriculture also requires major social and political changes which are beyond the scope of this paper. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Agroecology and Ecological Intensification. A Discussion from a Metabolic Point of View
Sustainability 2017, 9(1), 86; doi:10.3390/su9010086
Received: 26 November 2016 / Revised: 23 December 2016 / Accepted: 5 January 2017 / Published: 10 January 2017
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (808 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Supplementary Files
Abstract
This paper documents the origin and conceptual ambiguity of the terms Sustainable, Ecological and Agroecological Intensification. It defines the concept of Ecological Intensification from an agroecological perspective, and examines in energy terms whether it may be sustainable. To illustrate the theory, we apply
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This paper documents the origin and conceptual ambiguity of the terms Sustainable, Ecological and Agroecological Intensification. It defines the concept of Ecological Intensification from an agroecological perspective, and examines in energy terms whether it may be sustainable. To illustrate the theory, we apply Land Cost of Sustainable Agriculture (LACAS) methodology to Spanish agriculture, which is representative of Mediterranean agroclimatic conditions. As a result, we demonstrate the impossibility of generalizing an extensive Organic Farming (OF) scenario under the techniques currently used by organic farmers. This is due to the fact that it would bring about a reduction of 13% in agricultural production. Which necessarily means that OF has to be intensified under agroecological criteria. This option is also explored in two scenarios. As a result, we show that it is possible to compensate the yield gap between OF and conventional agriculture by implementing low-entropy internal loop strategies which reduce the land cost of generating the necessary nitrogen flows. However, these cannot exceed the limits established by the structure of Spanish territory. That is, agroecological intensification cannot be prolonged indefinitely over time since it is limited by the land available. Full article
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Open AccessArticle European Pesticide Tax Schemes in Comparison: An Analysis of Experiences and Developments
Sustainability 2016, 8(4), 378; doi:10.3390/su8040378
Received: 16 February 2016 / Revised: 3 April 2016 / Accepted: 11 April 2016 / Published: 16 April 2016
Cited by 7 | PDF Full-text (892 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Supplementary Files
Abstract
Policy measures are needed to reduce the risks associated with pesticides’ application in agriculture, resulting in more sustainable agricultural systems. Pesticide taxes can be an important tool in the toolkit of policy-makers and are of increasing importance in European agriculture. However, little is
[...] Read more.
Policy measures are needed to reduce the risks associated with pesticides’ application in agriculture, resulting in more sustainable agricultural systems. Pesticide taxes can be an important tool in the toolkit of policy-makers and are of increasing importance in European agriculture. However, little is known about the effects of such tax solutions and their impacts on the environment, farmers, and human health. We aim to fill this gap and synthesize experiences made in the European countries that have introduced pesticide taxes, i.e., France, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The major findings of our analysis are: (1) overall, the effectiveness of pesticide taxes is limited, but if a tax on a specific pesticide is high enough, the application and the associated risks will be reduced significantly; (2) in all countries, hoarding activities have been observed before a tax introduction or increase. Therefore, short-term effects of taxes are substantially smaller than long-term effects; (3) differentiated taxes are superior to undifferentiated taxes because fewer accompanying measures are required to reach policy goals; (4) tax scheme designs are not always in line with the National Action Plan targets. Low tax levels do not necessarily lead to a reduction of pesticide input and differentiated taxes do not necessarily lead to fewer violations of water residue limits. Full article

Review

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Open AccessReview Addressing the Knowledge Gaps in Agroecology and Identifying Guiding Principles for Transforming Conventional Agri-Food Systems
Sustainability 2017, 9(3), 330; doi:10.3390/su9030330
Received: 12 January 2017 / Revised: 10 February 2017 / Accepted: 16 February 2017 / Published: 23 February 2017
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (249 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Today’s society faces many challenges when it comes to food production: producing food sustainably, producing enough of it, distributing food, consuming enough calories, consuming too many calories, consuming culturally-appropriate foods, and reducing the amount of food wasted. The distribution of power within the
[...] Read more.
Today’s society faces many challenges when it comes to food production: producing food sustainably, producing enough of it, distributing food, consuming enough calories, consuming too many calories, consuming culturally-appropriate foods, and reducing the amount of food wasted. The distribution of power within the current mainstream agri-food system is dominated by multinational agri-businesses that control the flow of goods and wealth through the system. This hegemony has implemented a regime whose structures reinforce its control. A growing response to the current agri-food regime is the rise of agroecology, in both developed and developing country contexts. This is not a new phenomenon, but it has evolved over time from its Latin American origins. However, agroecology is not a monolithic block and represents many different perceptions of what it means to advance agroecology and ways in which it can help today’s society tackle the crisis of the agri-food system. This paper addresses these sometimes discordant view points, as well as the gaps in our knowledge regarding agroecology in an effort to lay out some guiding principles for how we can move forward in transforming the current agri-food system to achieve sustainability and a more equitable distribution of power and resources. Full article
Open AccessReview Political Agroecology in Mexico: A Path toward Sustainability
Sustainability 2017, 9(2), 268; doi:10.3390/su9020268
Received: 12 December 2016 / Revised: 7 February 2017 / Accepted: 7 February 2017 / Published: 14 February 2017
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Abstract
The biocultural richness of Mexico is among the highest worldwide. A history of over 7000 years of agriculture, and a persistent tradition of peasant social resistance movements that climaxed during the agrarian revolution in the early 20th century, continued in the indigenous resistance
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The biocultural richness of Mexico is among the highest worldwide. A history of over 7000 years of agriculture, and a persistent tradition of peasant social resistance movements that climaxed during the agrarian revolution in the early 20th century, continued in the indigenous resistance in Chiapas leading to the Zapatista uprising in 1992, and continues to be expressed in present local and regional confrontations for the defense of territory. Scholars agree that agroecology conceptually includes ecological and agricultural scientific research activity, empirical practices applied for agriculture, and the nuclear goal of numerous rural social movements. What has not been sufficiently established is how these three spheres of agroecology interact with each other and what emergent synergies they generate. Taking as an example the production in Mexico of three key agricultural goods—maize, coffee, and honey—our paper briefly reviews the existing relations between knowledge generation, agroecological practices, and rural social processes. We conclude by reflecting on the role of agroecological research in the context of an agrarian sustainability committed to helping reduce social inequity, marginality, and exploitation, as much as reverting the severe deterioration of the natural environment: both common issues in contemporary Mexico. Full article

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: The Restoration of Ancestral Abundance: Integrating Agroecology with Indigenous Knowledge and Practice in (Re)Creating Sustainable Community Food Systems for Hawai‘i
Authors: Albie Miles, Kamuela Enos, Kamana Beamer, Manulani Meyer, Noa Lincoln, Brandon Ledward
Abstract: The food system of Hawaii is at a cross roads. With a population of over 1.4 million people, the U.S. state of Hawaii is the most geographically isolated landmass in the world. Importing an estimated 90 percent of its food, fertilizer, energy and seed, the Hawaiian Islands are uniquely vulnerable to state wide food insecurity in the face of global climate change, fuel price fluctuations and other economic disturbances. The post--‐plantation agricultural economy remains largely oriented toward external markets, with the diversified agriculture sector limited by a range of social, economic and political obstacles. High rates of food insecurity and diet--‐related health disparities have long impacted the native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, while much prime agricultural land lays idle or slatted for development. Legal cases over access to water and land remain unresolved for many communities, while concerns over the environmental quality, human health and economic and cultural self--‐determination feature prominently in conversations about the future of food and agriculture in Hawaii. Here we discuss the history of pre--contact food and farming systems of Hawaii, colonial dispossession of indigenous Hawaiians from their land and water resources for sugar production, and its ecological and social impacts. The paper will address how indigenous scholars in the UH system are working in collaboration with NGOs, land owners, the philanthropic community and community practitioners to integrate the science of agroecology with traditional ecological knowledge in creating a more socially equitable and ecologically sustainable food and agricultural systems for Hawai‘i.
Keywords: Hawai‘I; indigenous agriculture; agroecology; food systems; food sovereignty
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