FAO-led symposium on agroecology opens in Budapest

Agroecology a key tool in transition to sustainable food systems

24 November 2016, Rome -- This week in the Hungarian capital, FAO convenes decision makers, experts, civil society organizations and others for three days of discussions on the concept of “agroecology.”

Nearly 200 participants from over 40 countries across Europe and Central Asia will examine current practices in agriculture and food systems, identify opportunities for innovation, and consider how agroecology can be scaled up to help countries achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals.

Agroecological farming considers interactions between natural and human systems so that farmers can derive the full benefits that ecosystems have to offer for sustainable food production -- for example through nutrient cycling, natural regulation of pests, soil and water conservation, and carbon sequestration. 

The aim is to develop food systems that are more sustainable and resilient, and that reduce or eliminate the need for external inputs, such as herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. Agroecology also aims to stabilize yields, supporting family farmers in particular, and strengthening the economic viability of rural areas.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva and Hungarian Minister for Agriculture Sándor Fazekas, representing the host country, set the tone with their opening statements this morning.

Graziano da Silva informed the meeting that two years ago, FAO had initiated a global dialogue on agroecology involving a wide range of stakeholders. This week’s symposium in Budapest – the first in the context of Europe and Central Asia – is part of a series of region-focused consultations including Latin America, Africa and Asia since 2015.

“I am particularly pleased to open this Symposium after just having returned from Marrakech, where I participated in COP 22,” Graziano da Silva said said, noting that "There is an increasing recognition of the importance of agriculture and food systems for sustainable development."

"Investing in sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture is fundamental," according to the FAO Director-General, who stressed that, "Agriculture can help us tackle climate change, poverty, and food insecurity at the same time -- agroecology can be a concrete option in addressing these challenges.”

In this context, Graziano da Silva announced the imminent launch of the “Agroecology Knowledge Hub,” a dedicated agroecology website. Knowledge and innovation are key to achieving sustainable food systems, he said, adding that the future of agriculture is not input-intensive, but knowledge-intensive.

In the transition towards sustainable food systems, agroecology seeks to create innovative mechanisms not only for food production, but also for food distribution and consumption. The Symposium will foster exchanges of knowledge, and help create an environment for collaboration and innovation.

“Agroecology is key in ensuring sustainable growth,” said Hungarian Minister for Agriculture Sandor Fazekas in his opening statement. “It is a prerequisite for sustainable agriculture, protection of biodiversity, sustainable natural resource management and supporting rural development,” he added.

Fazekas added that the main goal of the Symposium is to bring together the knowledge and experience already available among experts. “Agroecology will lead us to solutions for the most urgent global challenges of our time,” he said. “All that we are aiming for can be achieved together if we cooperate and align our actions, including member state governments, civil society actors, private and scientific organizations. FAO is an advocate and supporter of this, as evidenced by today’s conference.”

The Symposium will also aim to identify government initiatives and key entry points for agroecology in national policies and common European policies.

Approaches to agroecology are as diverse as the region itself. In countries such as Switzerland and Hungary, agroecological approaches are well established, and France has taken steps to engage the majority of its farms in agroecological methods by 2025. In other countries, agroecological approaches could be enhanced. 

The agroecology symposium -- taking place Nov. 24-25 -- is organized by FAO, hosted by the Government of Hungary, with the support of the Government of France.

Photo: ©FAO/
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva speaking at the Agroecology Symposium in Budapest, Hungary.