GEAI is based in a particular rural region of Ireland, with an extensive agriculture sector. On Tuesday, 12th of April, Bridget Murphy, one of GEAI’s director presented at the Ballinaglera Community Hall a workshop on Agroecology and its’ role in climate action.

Agriculture is not only affected by climate change but is also one of the main contributors. In 2020, the agriculture sector in Ireland was responsible for 37,1% of national Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) emissions, more than the energy industries and transport sector emissions combined. (1)

Changing the food and agriculture system should be top priority. Bridget raised concern for how the system used today has been proven to not be resilient or sustainable time after time. GEAI’s director says everyone should be asking themselves “How do we, as a species, live on the planet without damaging it, its’ soil, water, vegetation and animals?”. Although there have been some research and publications in the last century, only recently has agroecology become part of international and UN institutions discourse.

What is agroecology?

Agroecology is an integrated science that combines biological, ecological and agricultural concepts and principles without neglecting socio-economics aspects. Instead of individualizing and mechanizing practices, agroecology being also a social movement proposes the integration of the community, a combined effort to do better. The change this science suggests has not only to be applied by farmers and consumers, but also by institutions and governance. There’s an urgent need for a shift in regulations and policy.

Our food system is affected deeply by everything that agriculture comprises.  Sustainable principles of agroecology promote provision of any resources along with economic opportunities. Agroecology is a pillar for the food sovereignty framework.

High vs low external input agriculture

GEAI HEIA LEIA

High external input agriculture (HEIA) is the model most commonly used nowadays, and the one further from agroecology concepts. At the base of HEIA is the ideal that natural resources have only value when used, therefore the aim is to improve crops yields and using mostly high yielding plants such as rice or wheat. This model is also associated with the “best practices taught in college”, hence why the labour is mostly skilled, and the “one size fits all” models applied aren’t as efficient in all systems.

In summary, this is a capitalist and intensive model vulnerable to climate change and epidemics that has shown to contribute to soil degradation, water and air pollution with high levels of GHGs emissions and promoting health problems for both humans and animals.

Low external input agriculture (LEIA) contrary to the previous model, uses as little external input as possible, which immediately translates to less fuel consumption and therefore less emissions from machinery usage. Nitrogen is the main nutrient for soils and crops, so instead of coming from agrochemicals and fertilizers, in LEIA it’s obtained from natural solutions such as nitrogen fixating plants. Practices like integrated pest management promote biodiversity and comprehend that a crop is within an ecosystem that needs to be in balance. A healthy ecosystem will mean healthy land and water streams, less emissions given that both plants and soil capture carbon dioxide, high soil fertility and less water erosion.

Six blind man and the elephant

There is a tale that long ago in a village lived six old men, and they were all blind. The knowledge they had of the world came from travellers. From all the stories they heard, the ones about elephants were the most interesting for them. They could not agree on the physical appearance of the animal, because it was both described as something brutal capable of destruction but also as a living caring creature that a princess would use as means of transport. To settle the matter someone brought an elephant, and all the men touched the animal, but each a different part of it. Once again, there was argument about what the animal was like, because the assumptions were made only by the part they touched. Finally, the Rajah asked them how they could be so sure of their hypothesis, and implied that if they combine all the individual perspectives, they might be able to see the whole truth. From that day forward they chose to work together to obtain the better outcome for everyone. (2)

This story is a perfect analogy to how humans accept subjective perspectives as absolutes, when the narrative is so clearly biased either by personal experience, selfish interests or individual beliefs.

GEAI’s director, Bridget used this story to show the importance for humans to realise the interconnections and to build the concept of solidarity. Agroecology considers different perspectives, as previously mentioned, it integrates biological, ecological, agricultural and socio-economic principles. There is a necessity to reassess needs and the shortest chains to obtain food security. If we keep treating our soil this way, there will come a day in which our soils are no longer living, our food system will no longer work!

(1) https://www.epa.ie/our-services/monitoring–assessment/climate-change/ghg/agriculture/

(2) https://www.peacecorps.gov/educators/resources/story-blind-men-and-elephant/