Why we do what we do

Cultivate! catalyses healthy food and farming rooted in agroecology. All over the world, people are taking back control over the way they produce, process, exchange and eat their food. They seek good food produced with human dignity, and with respect for the environment. They are creating new networks and relationships between rural and urban communities as well as between farming and nature.

This trend is a response to a global food system in crisis. Decades of policies biased towards capital and chemical intensive food production have made food and farming into objects for profit and speculation. Economic and political power in the food chains 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 either hungry, malnourished or obese. Moreover, many family farmers face debts, declining returns and land insecurity. Land has become degraded, air polluted and water sources depleted.

Policies and regulations have spurred scale enlargement, specialisation, monocultures and capital intensive farming. This has triggered a race to the bottom, with farmers being forced to produce at ever lowering prices and exploit their own labour as well as the natural resources upon which farming is based. As a result, numerous farmers have to close down business every day and mainstream agriculture has become a threat to the health of people, animals, and soils.  Meanwhile, te 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 abroad. At the same time, the global North and especially the EU, 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 alternatives, reclaiming autonomy and control over food and farming. These initiatives, which come from food producers, 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.  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.

Agroecology, when accompanied by supportive policies, governance, power structures, local networks and markets, has the potential to offer a way out of the spiral of exploitation and degradation in which food production around the world, is situated. While the gross number of farmers is disappearing, the number of agroecological farmers, including urban, peri-urban and community supported agriculture farms, 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, and social and environmental movements are challenging the dominant discourse on food production, establishing networks of learning and growing and advocating for policies and processes that enable the development and spread of agroecology. Cultivate! is proud to be part of this movement. 

We take inspiration from the International Declaration on Agroecology (2015) and the organisations that are working from the ground up towards healthy food, land and communities.

Food sovereignty and agroecology

Food sovereignty is the right for 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 food systems, and establish networks for learning and growing.

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.