Agroecology to reverse soil degradation and achieve food security

Agroecology, which restores ecosystem functioning by maintaining soil health, is an effective strategy to achieve food security in the areas of the world where it is most needed.

Currently agricultural policy is increasingly expected to face the combined challenge of producing sufficient food for a growing population while guaranteeing environmental restoration including soil and ecosystem health. Therefore, policy-makers are more frequently asked how to address the urgent need for soil and environmental restoration when millions of people are still hungry.

Food security and soil degradation

Despite hosting almost all food production, rural areas also hold the majority of the world’s food insecure people.

Currently, about 33 percent of world soils are moderately to highly degraded. Forty percent of these soils are located in Africa and most of the remaining amount are in areas that are afflicted by poverty and food insecurity.

The strong relationship between soil health and food security calls for strategic and immediate actions especially at the local level to reverse soil degradation, in order to increase food production and alleviate food insecurity in the areas where it is most needed and in the context of climate change.

Agroecology as a strategy to reverse soil degradation

By understanding and working with interactions among soil, plants, animals, humans and the environment within agricultural systems, agro- ecology encompasses multiple dimensions of the food system, including ecological restoration, political and social stability and economic sustainability.

The agroecological approach starts by restoring soil life in order to re-establish and/or enhance the multiple soil-based biological processes. This requires increasing and monitoring soil organic matter; facilitating and monitoring soil biodiversity; and building on local farmers' knowlwedge through farmer field schools and other participatory scientific approaches.

Agroecology applies specific strategies such as polycultures and agroforestry systems, cover crops, and crop-livestock rotation, which guarantee local, stable and diverse year-round production and income.

Farmers: the ecosystem managers for soil restoration

Many farmers across the globe have a deep, experiential understanding of their local soil. They are the main ecosystem managers and are at the centre of agroecology. These farmers have tested, adapted and discovered agricultural practices that restore soil life and the associated ecosystem services.

Soils that are well managed by family farmers help ensure the four dimensions of food security while safeguarding the soil: availability, delivering nutrients for crop growth; access, by improving family farm income through more reliable harvests; stability, by conserving water to support nearly year-round cropping; and utilization, by harvesting healthy nutritious food from healthy soils.

Time for action

The design of diverse agroecological systems rooted in local ecological knowledge and based on system diversity and ecological synergies can significantly improve soil quality and reverse soil degradation while increasing the production of nutritious food.

Agroecology is part of the Strategic Framework of FAO, in particular the Strategic Objectives of making agriculture, forestry and fisheries more productive and sustainable, increasing the resilience of livelihoods and reducing rural poverty. 


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