“Agroecology tied to SDGs and the Paris Agreement? That’s a virtuous circle!”

Out soon on 10 June, the ‘Money Flows’ report by Biovision, IPES-Food and the Institute of Development Studies will look at what’s holding back investment in agroecological research for Africa. But first we wanted fresh perspectives on why research funding for agroecology matters. So we spoke to Million Belay of IPES-Food and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA).

Why is agroecology the central focus of the Money Flows report? What is it about agroecology that sets it apart from other ways of growing food?

Agroecology is about transforming the food system. And it’s very clear why we need to do that: because of the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture on health, nutrition, the environment, human rights and cultural values.

Now, research should logically go into understanding how we can undertake such a transition. That’s why it’s crucial to understand what the research focus is right now (the status quo), and how to better redirect that research into a transformative agenda. And agroecology is transformative. It is different because it goes beyond resource efficiency and simply substituting the current system with alternative practices. Actually, agroecology includes ecosystem, community and global level transformation. So the Money Flows report comes at the right time because research should support this transition, and we know that how research is funded really does matter.

The amount of development aid channelled into agricultural research has stagnated over the past 10 years. What does this mean for regions such as sub-Saharan Africa?

Currently, much of the research funding and money that goes into agriculture goes into industrial agriculture and researching ‘efficiency’. That’s to say reducing fertilizer use, saving water, improving seeds and optimizing planting density. So a very small fraction goes towards agroecological research. And why does agroecology require research?

Well, research is needed to show how agroecology performs relative to other approaches, in terms of sustaining yields in the longer term.  We also need research to know how to link agroecology to public policy, and investigate the economic and social impacts of adopting agroecological approaches. We also need to know the extent to which agroecological practices increase resilience in the face of climate change. All in all, it’s very difficult to convince African governments to fund agroecology without this evidence. 

What needs to be done in sub-Saharan Africa to spread (knowledge of) agroecology more effectively?

Actually this Money Flows report makes very useful recommendations in this regard, and not just in the African context. But it’s true that we need to give more primacy to African research institutions. That means setting targets for the share of AgR4D (agricultural research for development) going to Africa-based organisations, and also upping the share of Africa-based entities that lead projects. It also means establishing South-South exchanges on agroecological research, and communicating on their impact with respect to the Sustainable Development Goals. This is important – we need to emphasise agroecology’s contribution to the SDGs and also the Paris Agreement. That way we can mainstream agroecology in policy, and in turn attract more investment in agroecological research. Agroecology tied to the SDGs and the Paris Agreement? That's a virtuous circle.

What do you think the future holds in store for agroecology in Africa?

I think the future looks promising. I say this because I also observe change at the global level. More and more countries in West Africa are embracing agroecology. Actors supporting social movements are increasing in number, and these social movements are taking responsibility for what is happening on the continent. In this I include alliances like the 3AO and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.  Moreover, UN agencies, including the FAO, IFAD and UNEP are integrating agroecology into their activities. There is much more research now on agroecology. There is much more talk on linking agriculture to the food system in general, and of course the impetus for change is coming from climate and health movements, nutrition advocates, and human rights and indigenous peoples movements. So I feel much more hopeful.