category_publication

Understanding farm diversity to promote agroecological transitions

Teixeira, Heitor Mancini; Berg, Leonardo van den; Cardoso, Irene Maria; Vermue, Ardjan J.; Bianchi, Felix J.J.A.; Peña-Claros, Marielos; Tittonell, Pablo

Abstract

Agroecology is increasingly promoted by scientists, non-governmental organisations (NGO's), international organisations and peasant movements as an approach to foster the transition to sustainable and equitable food systems. The challenges to agroecological transitions are not the same for all farmers, as they can face different social and bio-physical conditions. We developed a farm typology combining participatory and quantitative methodologies to assess and categorise farm diversity and its implications for developing strategies to promote agroecological transitions. The participatory typology was developed during workshops to acquire insights on local farmers' perceptions and knowledge, and to generate hypotheses on family farm diversity. The participatory-based hypotheses were tested in the quantitative farm characterisation, which provided information on household characteristics, production strategies, land use, participation in public policies and extension services. Farms were located in Zona da Mata, Minas Gerais, Brazil, which harbour a wide diversity of farmers and where different actors have been engaged in agroecological transitions for the past 30 years. Our main findings were: (i) In the face of agroecological transitions, farmers differ in their management strategies, practices and principles; (ii) farmers identified as agroecological typically had stronger engagements in a network composed of farmers' organisations, universities and NGO's; (iii) agroecological farms showed great potential to provide a wide range of ecosystem services as they featured a higher crop diversity and a higher number of crops for self-consumption; (iv) to promote agroecology, it is crucial to recognise peasant knowledge, to change the dominant discourse on agriculture through social movement dynamics, and to generate support from public policies and funds; and (v) participatory and quantitative methodologies can be combined for more precise and relevant assessments of agroecological transitions.