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The role of politics in determining how we understand our world has never been more apparent. Agricultural research and development are no exception: politics can lead to one approach becoming mainstream while others are silenced or blocked. But achieving sustainability in agricultural systems demands a respect for diversity, encouraging broader thinking about solutions and providing political support for farmers to make choices. The 15 case studies in Agroecology – The Bold Future of Farming in Africa highlight agroecological initiatives across the continent. Diversification, typically through mixed cropping, agroforestry and integration of livestock, is central. Through such interactions, biological processes are optimised, whether by nutrient recycling, nitrogen fixation or biological pest control. But introducing or promoting technologies to smallholders is not enough for agroecology to flourish. Farmers also need access to land, seed, water, credit and local markets; supportive economic policies, financial incentives and market opportunities are a vital part of the picture.

Agroecology has been the bedrock of traditional agricultural systems around the world, but being adaptable to socio-economic and environmental changes is essential for such systems to persist. This is one message to emerge from Forgotten Agricultural Heritage, which documents an initiative to recognise and protect Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems. Developed over millennia, farming systems such as China’s rice-fish production, or the integrated management of coastlines, farmland and forests found on Chiloé Island, Chile, enable us to better understand what has given these systems such resilience.  

While agroecology and traditional food production systems have their champions, for policymakers they are only some of the options available. In assessing those options, Agriculture and Food: Pathways to Sustainability offers thought-provoking and practical support. An introduction by Ian Scoones explores how different pathways emerge in agriculture and how sustainability is generated. How we judge success, and why certain projects attract support, is important. How and by whom agricultural research is carried out – by farmers or lab researchers – impacts on how technologies are valued, and disparities in governance, for example between global norms and local realities, can also determine success or failure. The ‘pathways approach’ examines how different pathways to sustainability are understood and presented by different actors and how this affects both the options that are chosen and who ends up benefiting.


Agriculture and Food: Pathways to Sustainability
By I Scoones et al. 
Routledge and ESRC STEPS Centre, 2017; 132pp.  
Downloadable as a PDF file from:

Agroecology: The Bold Future of Farming in Africa
Edited by M Farrelly, GC Westwood & S Boustred 
Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM), 2017; 88 pp.
ISBN 978-99-7689-851-4 
Downloadable as a PDF file from:

Forgotten Agricultural Heritage: Reconnecting Food Systems and Sustainable Development
By P Koohafkan & MA Altieri 
Routledge, 2016; 296 pp. 
ISBN 978-11-3820-415-7 
£32.99 • €38

This post by Mike Davison originally appeared in SPORE, an online magazine published by CTA, a Partner in GFAR.