On 9 November, 2012 I organised an international conference on the Potential of Agroecology, together with Dirk Holemans, with the Green Group in the European Parliament and with Oikos.
The turnout was overwhelming. 450 people physically attended the conference, double this number followed the conference online via webstream.
It can be no coincidence that there were so many of us.
We feel that this proves that people increasingly want to work on creating alternatives while society as a whole rolls in the wrong direction. This type of activity, where a lot of people gather to think about transition, is becoming increasingly important. Two weeks ago 700 people attended a transition festival in Ghent.
This gives us reason for hope, because transition is all about system change, about another vision on society.
This is highly necessary because the twentieth-century system that we inherited is on its last legs.
This may all sound logical but in fact it is a recent insight. In the last twenty-five years, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, neo-liberal forces have succeeded in making us believe that the economic growth model of always more - the world according to Monsanto – is our only desirable future, in which only two things matter: the individual and his purchasing power. We now know that the future will not be a continuation of the present. More and more people are beginning to understand that it is unrealistic and unfeasible to continue to produce and consume more and more (and to think that this will make you happier).
We are at a turning point in our society and agroecology is one of the fields in which this is becoming apparent.
The tipping point in practice means that people are suddenly rediscovering, after decades of individualisation and cocooning, that doing things together is not only fun but also contributes a sense and a meaning to life. It may sound unbelievable but we are reinventing the collective. Whether you are a farmer, a scientist or a consumer, we are all becoming citizens again, we are experiencing a repolitisation of society. A society which we want to take into our own hands again. We are no longer relying on multinationals and on the government to change things.
Agroecology is part of a broad social movement. Increasingly people are starting to share things again instead of buying them. Car sharing is a good example. We now have repair cafes where people repair their own stuff, resident cooperatives for alternative energy, barter and charity stores, urban agriculture and initiatives such as the 'edible city' (eetbare stad) and Donderdag veggiedag (the equivalent of meatless Monday).
We are no longer focussing on the problems of the dominant system but are instead working on alternatives, on new models. The documentary ‘The crops of the future’ is an excellent example of this.
I think that agroecology is a model for agriculture and food, but also a quest for another society model. Fortunately we no longer need blueprints, we no longer need to know what society will have to look like tomorrow, we just set to work.
Agroecology is an example of a social learning process, the search for a new paradigm.
A few elements of this paradigm were identified during the conference.
We need to evolve from a more efficient production to sufficiency: producing sufficient quantities in better ways.
We need to evolve from competition and speculation to food safety.
From a monoculture to biodiversity and resilience.
We need to evolve from a science at the service of multinationals to a socially relevant science.
And last but not least, we need to evolve from the principles of competition and the law of the strongest to cooperation and ecological justice.
These are the cornerstones of a new paradigm.
During this conference we can see, experience and feel that agroecology is a new social project. It transcends agriculture, science or the consumers. It is a new social project, whereby a coalition of various partners can generate the support for a new vision. This contradicts the traditional conception of a society in which politicians focus on the institutions and the administration and civil society implements policies.
Today agroecology requires a development coalition, which focuses on social action, on building a society on a daily basis, on entrepreneurship and projects.
In fact today makes this abundantly clear and together we have seen what is feasible, necessary and desirable in the field of agroecology. If the stakeholders of society and agroecology commit to a decisive movement, then it will become possible to achieve what is necessary. Because what is feasible depends on what people wish to achieve and those who have listened carefully today know that a lot is feasible.
We want to thank some people for the input we received.
Firstly Marie Monique Robin, as the strong social observer, who has exposed a shift in society in her documentaries. One of her documentaries is called “The World according to Monsanto”, highlighting how shitty the system is. Her new documentary, “The crops of the future” highlights a new paradigm, which in place, which is being implemented and which works.
We also wish to thank Les Levidow. The scientist who became an activist, who is an activist. Who explained that new social alliances are being established between researchers, farmers and consumers. Who highlighted the importance of a social struggle with his example of TP Organics, which diametrically opposes the European Commission.
A word of thanks as well for Pierre Stassart, the professor who wants to awaken his students again, who explained that if the current agricultural model no longer works we do not have to tinker with the margins but have to work on developing an alternative system. And who highlighted the combination of specific practices with general social criticism.
A big thank you also for Francisco Roberto Caporal. The professor with an incredible Latin American passion for agroecology. He has shown us that AE is a movement which is reaching more and more people every year and although we should not be naive, because his country still has many problems, it is making progress and a lot has happened there in the field of education.
Thanks also to Bavo Verwimp, the farmer with his economic perspective on agroecology, who showed us that the current economic agricultural model is not working for organic farmers and that a framework is needed. The Daly ecological-economic model can certainly serve as inspiration for this.
Finally we wish to thank Muriel Tichit, the research director with a clear perspective on the matter, who taught us that biodiversity is the source of all life for agriculture and that we have only been confronted with an imbalance in terms of development between agriculture and diversity. She also emphasised the importance of new organisational models.