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Their view: Agroecology offers sustainable food output

Ken Wilson is executive director of The Christensen Fund, which seeks to integrate biological and cultural diversity. Here's a snippet from a recent column suggesting a better way to feed the world:

Worldwide, a billion people go hungry. A similar number over-eat the wrong foods. And yet one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted.

Industrialized food production promised liberation from the constraints of Earth's natural cycles. And unfettered trade seemed to enable culinary abundance wherever there was money to buy it. But the over-use of fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers, and precious groundwater supplies has levied significant costs on our planet.

There's a better way. It's called agroecology. It integrates scientific understanding with farmers' knowledge of how to make their local landscapes useful to humans.

Agroecology celebrates the value of diverse and complex methods of land stewardship. The approach re-integrates livestock, crops, pollinators, trees, and water in ways that work resiliently with the landscape.

Agroecological techniques replace the "vicious cycles" bringing down our planetary support systems with "virtuous circles" that mimic nature's own systems.

For instance, agroecology can restore soil fertility and sequester carbon naturally rather than spewing it dangerously into the atmosphere or as acid into the ocean. Its nutrient cycling approach — whereby nitrogen passes again and again through food systems, roots, and soils — can turn waste into raw materials rather than pollutants.

In essence, agroecology seeks out nature-based solutions by empowering farmers to do what they know works best on their own lands — and then to spread those lessons far and wide.

Agroecology is now set to rise onto the global stage.

The Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures project reviewed 40 agroecological projects in 20 African countries. Between 2000 and 2010, these initiatives doubled crop yields, resulting in nearly 5.8 million extra tons of food.

But agroecology doesn't just increase the output of farms. It values farmers' relationships with and knowledge of their lands. As such, it is a powerful, cost-effective, and sustainable model for development.

The industrial agriculture experiment of the 20th century has failed. With agroecology, we now have an approach that can endure. Its small farmers can feed and cool the planet — and follow ways of life they value.

Our leaders must support such food systems that truly nourish people and planet.