Why we do what we do
Cultivate! seeks to advance healthy food and farming rooted in agroecology by supporting organisations and movements with research, facilitation and training. Why?
All over the world, people are taking back control over the way they produce, process, exchange and eat their food. They organise around good food produced with human dignity, and with respect for the environment. They are creating new networks and equitable relationships between rural and urban communities, between farming and nature and between a diversity of movements. They build on a diversity of knowledges and wisdom.
This trend is a response to a global food system in crisis. Decades of policies biased towards capital and chemical intensive food production for ever greater profits have made food and farming into objects for economic gain and speculation. Policies and regulations have spurred scale enlargement, specialisation, monocultures and capital intensive farming. Farmers are being forced to produce at ever lower prices whilst exploiting their own labour as well as the natural resources upon which farming is based.
Economic and political power in the food chain is concentrated within a few large multinational seed, chemical and retail companies. Food and farming have become dependent on commodity markets, chemicals and oil, monocultures and specialisation, global finance and cheap raw materials. One of the consequences is that two billion people are now malnourished. Moreover, many family farmers face debts, declining returns and land insecurity. Land has become degraded, air polluted, water sources depleted and we are facing a threatening climate crisis. Biodiversity is lost at alarming rates and seed is increasingly out of farmers’ hands.
Meanwhile, the world produces a food surplus that either goes to waste or is sold abroad at dump prices – a practice that is endangering the livelihoods of farmers in those regions – and the global North remains the largest importer of (mainly raw) agricultural materials. Much of this is produced by large scale agricultural enterprises in the Global South, many of which have been accused of involvement in land grabbing, deforestation and environmental degradation.
In the midst of this crisis, people are building different pathways, reclaiming autonomy and control over food and farming. These initiatives, which come from food producers, indigenous peoples, small scale processors, chefs, urban citizens and others are based largely on self-organised ways of doing and being. Many of them are young, full of aspiration, hope and energy. Their knowledge combines ancient and modern wisdom. They work with -instead of against- nature and are driven by values of dignity, solidarity, autonomy and justice. Their practices show the contours of a new paradigm in food and farming that is based on the principles of agroecology and food sovereignty.
At Cultivate! we consider this self-organised food practice rooted in agroecology and food sovereignty as a critical building block in the transformation of food systems towards diversified, equitable and healthy societies. However, supportive discourse, enabling policies, participatory governance, horizontal knowledge building, equitable networks and new markets are also necessary to enable agroecology.
Agroecology clearly offers a way out of the spiral of exploitation and degradation in which food production around the world is situated. The number of agroecological farmers, including urban, peri-urban and community supported agriculture, are experiencing explosive growth. At the same time, more and more citizens seek healthy and sustainable food and engage in new relations of mutual support with producers.
The movement that seeks to amplify agroecology is growing. Farmer organisations, researchers, indigenous groups, fisherfolk and other social and environmental movements are building a new discourse around food, establishing equitable knowledge and economic exchange networks, and advocating for policies and processes that enable the growth of agroecology. Cultivate! is proud to be part of this movement.
We take inspiration from the International Declaration on Agroecology (2015) and the movements and organisations that are working from the ground up towards healthy food, land and communities in just societies.
Food sovereignty and agroecology
Food sovereignty is the right of people to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, as well as the policies that affect those systems. It calls for people’s control of natural resources and markets, including access to land, seeds and water as well as fair prices for small scale producers. Moreover, it stipulates the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food, and values environmentally respectful production practices. Food sovereignty holds the wellbeing and local knowledge of producers and consumers at the centre of food practices and policy.
Agroecology is a means to achieve food sovereignty. It has three dimensions. Agroecology encompasses the practices that people use when they farm with nature. It is also the systematic investigation of what works, when and how by researchers, farmer innovators or others; in this way it is a science. Furthermore, agroecology is a movement of farmers, citizens and social movements that struggle for more sustainable and equitable food systems in networks that allow them to learn and grow.
A more detailed description of agroecology and food sovereignty has been elaborated by over 500 representatives from more than 80 countries, of organizations of peasants, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples and pastoralists at the 2015 Nyeleni forum in Mali. In 2019, the High Level Panel of Experts developed 13 principles of agroecology.