The politics of Agroecology: cooptation and resistance in the global north

This article written by Miguel Altieri and Eric Holt-Giménez and published by Food First (Oct 18 2016) warns that

“The political dimension of agroecology is problematic in the Global North—particularly in the United States—because challenging the root causes of industrial agriculture’s socio-environmental destruction implies challenging capitalism itself.  It requires a radical (i.e. going to the root) critique that transcends the notion that minor adjustments or ‘greening’ the neoliberal economic model will bring about substantive change. It situates agroecology outside mainstream academic, government and non-governmental programs and within the resistance struggles of the social movements fighting for food sovereignty, local autonomy, and community control of land, water and agrobiodiversity.

But, agroecology in the US and Europe is not anchored in strong agrarian movements. The northern arena of agroecological debate is dominated by an eclectic soup of apolitical narratives (read: avoiding the subject of capitalism), largely promoted by consumers and academics, global institutions, big NGOs and big philanthropy. This institutional camp uses a variety of terms (sustainable intensification, climate-smart agriculture, diversified farming systems, etc.) to promote a reformist definition of agroecology as a set of additional tools to improve everyone’s toolbox. Big, small, organic, conventional… will all get along better with a little more agroecology.

The cooptation of agroecological practices will make industrial agriculture a bit more sustainable and a little less exploitative, but will not challenge underlying relations of power in our food system. Further, agroecology “lite” ignores the ways in which large-scale, industrial monocultures undermine the existence of the smallholder farmers who farm agroecologically. The voices of agroecological practitioners —Afro-American, Latino, Indigenous and Asian communities, smallholders and urban farmers—and of low income consumers, progressive academics and NGOs critical of conventional agriculture, are marginal or muted in this discourse.

Agroecology—as a countermovement to the Green Revolution—is at a crossroads, struggling against cooptation, subordination, and revisionist projects that erase its history and strip it of its political meaning. De-politicized agroecology is socially meaningless, divorced from agrarian realities, vulnerable to the corporate food regime and isolated from the growing power of global food sovereignty movements.

Agroecology has a pivotal role to play in the future of our food systems. If it is co-opted by reformist trends in the Green Revolution, the agroecological countermovement will be weakened, the corporate food regime will likely be strengthened, and substantive reforms to our food systems will be highly unlikely. However, if agroecologists build strategic alliances with food sovereignty and agrarian movements—at home and abroad—the countermovement will be strengthened. A strong countermovement could generate considerable political will for the transformation of our food systems.

Whether one recognizes the politics of agroecology—or tries to hide them—it is precisely these agrarian politics that will determine our agricultural future.”

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