Proving the value of agroecology for farmers and food systems: what methods and evidence do we have?
Agroecology at farm level is about good agricultural practices, such as crop diversification and rotation, intercropping, crop-livestock integration, manure recycling and integrated pest management. It also includes elements of farmer resilience building, farmer organisations, fair wages for farm workers and soil management. More broadly, agroecology is connected to entire food systems, building circularity (and reducing waste) in agriculture supply chains.
Some construe agroecology to be the same as ecological/regenerative agriculture or climate-smart agriculture. Also, agroecology is linked to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicator 2.4.1 on the “proportion of agricultural area under productive and sustainable agriculture”. Around the world, it is evident that a movement is afoot to promote agroecological transition through policy and programmes in different countries and contexts. But do we really understand the value of agroecology in terms of its potential contribution to poverty alleviation, human health, and the environment?
Given the complexity involved, it is understandable that there has been a limited number of initiatives for measuring the impact of agroecological transition. Some consider agroecology to be merely a buzzword that is aspirational, with no real-life significance. And in the absence of clear empirical evidence and methodologies to measure the impact of agroecology, it is hard to dismiss such arguments. It is, therefore, important to learn from ongoing (and maybe innovative) initiatives for measuring the impact of interventions promoting agroecological transition.
There have been discussions on this forum on a methodological approach developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), including the Tool for Agroecological Performance Evaluation (TAPE). Building on these discussions, we would like to invite the EvalForward community to share its experience on the following questions:
- How can we measure the performance of agroecological interventions at farm level (or at food systems level) in terms of their contribution to poverty alleviation, human health, and the environment?
- What have been some of innovative methodological ways of measuring agroecological transitions on different scales? Are these innovations replicable in different contexts?
- Do we already have some demonstrative empirical evidence proving or disproving the value of agroecology?
At the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) and, as part of the Knowledge & Research for Nutrition project, EU-funded and implemented by Agrinatura we have developed a practical empirical approach to understanding the status of agroecological transitions at farm level. This includes survey data from 1695 households, focus-group discussions, and key informant interviews in Madagascar to measure agroecology (diversity, resilience, efficiency and recycling aspects) at farm level and assess the linkages between agroecology interventions and poverty, nutrition and women’s empowerment-related outcomes. We have so far undertaken one measurement (a baseline in 2022) and expect to conduct another in 2024‒25 to see the effect of interventions. In the course of these discussions, we will share more details on this pilot programme.
Looking forward to hearing from you!