13 January 2020

European Foundations for Sustainable Agriculture and Food network explores the opportunities and challenges of agroecology

The EFC’s European Foundations for Sustainable Agriculture and Food (EFSAF) network explored the opportunities and challenges of agroecology for philanthropic organisations working in the agricultural sector, at its autumn meeting in Brussels, 4 December 2019.

The meeting provided an opportunity for attendees understand the main actors and potential role of foundations in agroecology through the experience and case studies of EFSAF members, allies and grantees. The meeting also allowed EFSAF members to connect with other funders, and to promote exchanges with the EFC’s European Environmental Funders Group (EEFG) for a cross-sectoral discussion.

Claudia Neubauer, Programme Manager, Fondation Charles Mayer Pour le Progrès de l’Homme moderated the first panel that was focused on framing the context, providing definitions and illuminating the meeting on the history of agroecology as a science, a movement and a practice. Alexandre Wezel, Head of the Department of Agroecology and Environment Professor for Agroecology and Landscape Ecology, ISARA gave an overview from an academic perspective about agroecology, its approaches, developments, current challenges and the responses that are being implemented in Europe. He highlighted the role of agroecology as a transdisciplinary issue. Pierre-Marie Aubert, Coordinator of the European Agriculture Initiative, IDDRI built upon this and explained the key questions and issues regarding a transition to agroecology in Europe, and highlighted specifically how agriculture and food issues need to be addressed simultaneously and the how agroecology is lacking institutional recognition nowadays.

With the context of the discussions on agroecology now established, case studies from Italy, France and West Africa were presented to supplement and inform on the different practices and challenges for agroecology. Matteo Barbato, Programme Officer, Fondazione Cariplo highlighted some Italian examples based upon the work of Fondazione Cariplo. For example, the fact that 78% of farms in Italy are family-based is the basis of the discussion for a transition into an agro-ecological model and in Italy, AIDA, the Italian association for agroecology, is organising seminars, workshops and other initiatives open to citizens to educate and inform. Salvatore Ceccarelli, former Professor of Agricultural Genetics, University of Perugia, highlighted the central role of seeds when talking about agroecology and its effects on insects, weeds, pollinators etc and that the major difference between industrial agriculture and agroecology is biodiversity, utilising different examples involving farmers directly in the transition process, specifically in Yemen, Syria, Uganda as well as Italy.

Riccardo Bocci, Scientific Director, Rete Semi Rurali rounded off the case studies on Italy with a presentation on the role of social actors in Europe. The presentation started by showing how synthetic biology and genomics could be the solution for the plant breeding paradox, and also mentioned the importance of the social aspect, food and seeds as a cultural heritage linked to a specific territory. The long term support for the initiatives was shown as crucial to the large scale implementation of agroecology and the audience was left with the message that you need to ”go for horizontal proliferation instead of scaling up initiatives, in order to preserve the small size of the initiatives, not to grow”.

The discussion of agroecology in France was presented by Claudia Neubauer who highlighted that the main priorities of Fondation Charles Mayer Pour le Progrès de l’Homme are on social and ecological transition, and does not work on calls for proposals, instead mainly providing structural support to organisations on a long term basis, for advocacy, network and communication activities. This work involves supporting the organisation Terres de Liens, implementing programmes on rural-urban development, working of the energy transition and supporting several partners involved in policy such as Via Capesina, IDDRI, Solagro and IPES food.

Karine Meaux, Head of Emergency and International Actions, Fondation de France presented the work of Fondation de France on agroecology, with a special focus on West Africa. She illustrated the start of their programme on agroecology in 2009, was in response to research showing that the issue was underfunded, as well as agroforestry. The work continued to grow until 2014, the International Year for Family Farming, when Fondation de France started a programme in West Africa promoting African food for the African market by establishing a fund with Fondazione Cariplo and Compagnia di Sanpaolo. Fondation de France is trying to adapt practices within their own organisation, such as establishing links between natural disasters and agroecology and a key element moving forward for Fondation de France is to strengthen collaborations with other foundations and promote the sharing of information and knowledge with others.

For more information on the European Foundations for Sustainable Agriculture and Food network, contact Silvia Balmas.